It’s quite a turbulent sedra this week. After witnessing victory over Pharaoh and his marauding troops once and for all at the Red Sea, we sing the famous shirah of praise and thanks to HaShem (sing when you’re winning). Following this, there are the complaints of the bitterness of the (and general lack of) water at Marah, the complaints over the lack of special food which leads to the Manna, and another lot of complaining about lack of water - with the (kosher) hitting of the rock resolving this third complaint. And if that was not enough, during injury time of our sedra, Amalek come forward as the first nation to dare attack us after HaShem had thoroughly decimated the world superpower (Egypt) for us . So that’s two battles, three lots of complaining, a song or two, and food and drink - good value for 116 psukim. We are going to discuss two unique aspect of the Jewish People which feature in our sedra; in fact, they are both housed in the same pasuk (14:10).

Firstly, Rashi makes an interesting comment regarding the Egyptians’ zest and fervour for pursuing the Jewish People at the sea. Picking up on the singular verb used to describe the Egyptians chasing after us (‘and behold the Egyptians were chasing [sing.] after them;’ 14:10), Rashi comments that the Egyptians were ‘with one heart like one man’ - such was the unity of purpose in their pursuing of the Jews. This sounds reminiscent of another comment of Rashi - one that refers to the unity of the Jewish People at the receiving of the Torah. Commenting on the reference to the Jewish People in the singular (‘and Bnei Yisrael camped [sing.] there opposite the mountain;’ Shemos 19:2), Rashi writes the celebrated words that we were (are) ‘like one man with one heart.’ If one looks closely at these two comments of Rashi, one notices that they are not exactly the same; the Egyptians are ‘with one heart like one man,’ whilst the Jews are ‘like one man with one heart.’ Why did Rashi swap the sentence around and what exactly is the difference here?

I think it is Rav Hutner who provides our answer here. There is a central difference between the Jewish People and other nations; they Jewish People in reality are one people - they are united and interconnected on a deep spiritual level (they have one neshama) to the extent that the actions of any given Jew can affect the entire nation (just like one organ can affect the rest of the body). A Jew could be learning Torah in Hawaii and as a result a Jew in America receives Divine Assistance in his troubles. Other nations, however, were not created with this biological spiritual unity - they have no such interconnecting bonds. This is the key to our two comments of Rashi. The word ‘heart’ here conveys a purpose; the heart’s desire. Thus, when Rashi says that the Egyptians were ‘with one heart like one man,’ he is saying that the Egyptian people only united because they had a common purpose - the purpose is put first because that facilitated and caused the uniting. But the Jewish People are united in reality - they do not need a common purpose to be considered one body. Thus, Rashi, in referring to our unity, says that we are ‘like one man with one heart’ - the desire (‘heart’) comes second, for the common [spiritual] desire is a product (not the cause) of our natural spiritual bonds and unity. Therefore, the Jewish People are intrinsically and permanently united, whilst the other nations are only united on a superficial level; and only when they have a common purpose. That is our first accolade of the Jewish People that features in our sedra. We now move on to the second. As an introduction to this second point, I must admit that I do not have a solid source for the totality of what we are about to say; I shall give you every source that I do have here. So here goes…

The pasuk says (14:10) ‘and Pharaoh drew near’ (u’paraoh hikriv) - the problem is that the verb is in the causative form; and thus it should really mean ‘and Pharaoh caused someone/something else to go near.’ Picking up on this with their ever-sensitive ears, Chazal tell us that this means ‘and Pharaoh caused Bnei Yisrael to come closer to HaShem via crying out to Him.’ Pharaoh’s pursuing of the Jews made us daven to HaShem. Let’s ask an illegal question here: does Pharaoh get reward in the Next World for causing these tefillos? After all, let’s face it - he caused the Jews to pray - so why should he not get reward for that? Indeed, one can take this question to its extreme. The gemarra tells us that Hamman’s decree that the Jewish People should be killed caused the Jews to pray and fast with such intensity that all the prophets could not manage to achieve. Does Hamman get reward for having a share in these prayers?[1] (I do not want to bring more modern examples)

The answer has to be ‘no,’ but in order to upgrade this answer from a knee-jerk emotional response to a proper, thought-out answer, we shall back it up with an insightful comment of the Brikser Rav. The gemarra[2] reveals that in the end of days, when Moshiach comes, the Romans will come and claim their reward for building bridges and roads, etc; arguing that all these constructions were in order that the Jews could learn Torah. HaShem replies to them ‘you fools; you built it for your own purposes’ and denies them their reward. The Brisker Rav asks the shrewd question; why does HaShem call them fools - He should call them liars? And what possessed the Romans to think that they could pull a fast one on HaShem Himself? The Brisker Rav answers that in truth, they are not liars, for everything in the world is ultimately for the upkeep of Torah;[3] the Romans are just fools for claiming that that was their intention. We see from here that since the Romans did not have the intention to facilitate the study of Torah, they do not get the reward for their actions; even though Jews did use their roads to travel to learn Torah and so more mitzvos were done as a result of the Romans’ actions. The same can be applied to Pharaoh and Hamman - they do not get reward for the mitzvos caused by their actions because they did not intend for such results whatsoever. However, it would seem that this only applies to non-Jews. When it comes to Jews, it would seem that we can get reward for triggering off other peoples’ mitzvos - even if we only caused these mitzvos unintentionally.[4] As the Midrash[5] notes, there is an entire mitzvah which teaches us this principle - the mitzvah of shichechah (whereby a field owner who forgets two sheaves of produce behind in his field fulfils the mitzvah of donating these sheaves to the poor). Here, the act of forgetting was done unintentionally, yet that is the mitzvah. Similarly, Chazal tell us that the dead are judged on Rosh HaShanah each year, for even though they have not physically done any mitzvos over the past year, they are judged for all the ripple effects of their deeds when they were alive; ripples that continue to produce fruits years later still. Again, these are ripple effects which might have been unintentional - but there is reward for this nonetheless (for Jews). Thus, if a Jew gives tzedakah, and in doing so unintentionally causes several onlookers to give tzedakah too, he gets some reward for their giving too.

So far we have said that there is a distinction between Jew and non-Jew here;[4] a Jew can get reward for triggering off mitzvos unintentionally, whilst a non-Jew does not (unless he intends for such effects). The question is why should there be such a distinction? Or, asked differently, if the rules of mitzvos dictate that one cannot get a reward for something unintentional, why should a Jew be any different?

Perhaps an avenue of answer is to say that of course one needs to have intention for the mitzvah effects of one’s deeds in order to get reward for these effects. But the difference between Jew and non-Jew is that a Jew does (deep down) have such intention for positive effects of his deeds, whilst a non-Jew does not.[6] Why? For, as we extracted from the two Rashis we began with, Jews are intrinsically bonded to each other; they are part of one unit. Thus, just as when one part of a body does something, it cannot claim ‘I did not want to affect the other parts of the body’ (e.g. if one stubs their toe on purpose, they cannot claim ‘I only wanted to feel the pain in my toe; I wanted the rest of my body to function as normal without any pain’ - for we know that the body is one unit, and the pain in the toe affects the entire body), so too, when one Jew does an action, he knows that his actions will have an impact on other Jews; for all Jews are connected. A Jew could be learning Torah in Hawaii and as a result a Jew in America receives Divine Assistance in his troubles. Thus, a Jew does intend for such effects, and gets reward for them as a consequence. But a non-Jew does not have these intrinsic bonds with other non-Jews, or with Jews for that matter, and thus he forgoes the above argument - he cannot claim that he knew that there would be effects on others and therefore intended for these effects (just like the Romans), for he does not have this intrinsic interconnection which would forge such an intention.

In summary, we have learnt how Jews are intrinsically one and how each Jew’s actions affect others; bringing the words ‘every Jew is responsible for one another’ to a new level.

Have a great Shabbos!

[1] See the Be’er Yosef, parshas Korach, who says that to some extent, Hamman does get reward for this - the fact that his grandsons converted to Judaism and learnt (and taught) Torah in Bnei Brak (as the gemarra reports) shows that Hamman did have some spark of goodness within him. [2] Gemarra Avodah Zarah 2b [3] See Rashi Bereishis 1:31 [4] I heard this distinction in this area of unintentional cause of mitzvos between Jew and non-Jew from someone who asked a mashgiach of Torah Ohr yeshiva about this, and received this answer. [5] Midrash cited in Mishnayos Kehati, introduction to Pe’ah 5:7. I have heard Rav Dovid Kaplan cite a commentary on Avos 2:1 saying that the words mattan s'charan shel mitzvos refer to the reward for these mitzvah effects of one's actions. [6] Similar to the gemarra Kiddushin which says that a Jew has the halacha of machshava ke’maaseh, but a non-Jew does not.

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.


Security code
Refresh