Thursday, December 31, 2015

Shmos: the cause of oppression

After Moshe chastises the two Israelites that the Midrash identifies as the dyamic duo of trouble, Dathan and Aviram, by asking why would one hit his fellow, he gets a response that he finds disconcerting and declares, "Achen nodah hadavar [so the matter is known]" The simple meaning is that the two know about his killing the Egyptian who beat the Israelite. But there is also a deeper meaning that Rashi quotes, "umidrasho noda li hadavar shehayiti tema alav, ma cheto Yisrael mikol shivim umos, lihiyros nirdim beavodas perach, aval roeh ani shehem reuyim lekach." According to the Midrash what is known is the matter that had puzzled Moshe, what was the sin of Yisrael that made it the most culpable among the 70 nations to be punished in backbreaking work. But now [from the behavior of Dathan and Aviram] he sees that they did deserve it.

My grandfather asks the following: Didn't Moshe know that the enslavement was decreed upon them at Brith beyn habetharim? Also wasn't he aware of the fact that among them were people who were idolaters, according to Midrashey Chazal?  They also committed other violations, so what was the key discovery in this particular incident?

He answers: Moshe didn't question why they were subjected to punishment but what made them guilty to the extent of warranting the level of oppression  signified by avodas perach. The answer that he discovered was that there were among them malishinim [talebearers or snitchers] who turn their own brothers in and that there is hatred among them, he declared, "Achen nodah hadavar."

This is similar to the account of R' Yochanan ben Zakay's respnse to seeing the daughter of Nakdimon ben Guriyon gathering barley grains from the the dung of the Arabs' animals (Kethuboth 66a). he cried and declared, "Fortunate are you Israel. at the time that they do the will of G-d, no nation or language has dominance over them. And at the time when they fail to do the will of G-d, they are persecuted at the hands of a low nation." This was the punishment that fell upon them at the time of the destruction of the second Temple, which Chazal say (Yoma 9a) occurred to a generation that did study Torah and observe mitzvos. Yet, it was destroyed  because of baseless hatred.

My grandfather then references Rabbeynu Bechayey who cited Midrash Tehillim about the relative merits of different generations and their outcomes. The children in the generation of Shaul and Shmuel were able to expound on the Torah with 49 different facet. Nevertheless, they would fail to achieve victory at war. Why? Because there were talebearers among them . In contrast, the generation of Achav was give to idolatry. However, because there were no talebearers among them, they would be victorious when they waged war, and not a single one would die on the battlefield.


P.S. My husband observed that this points out why that level of punishment but doesn't poinpoint why this particular type of punishment was meted out. A number of possible explanations come to mind:
 1. On a spiritual level, all of Klal Yisrael is one. That's the level they achieved in receiving the Torah -- not as many individuals -- as a single entity of Klal Yisrael. The malshin who pursues harm to his brother fails to see him as another limb on the same body. He doesn't understand that harming another is harming the larger collective entity. In that way, avodas perach that breaks the body is a physical manifestation of that spiritual reality of breaking apart the body made up of all the individuals of Klal Yisrael.
2. Based on the phonemes in perach, it can be read as peh rach, a soft mouth, that Chazal interpreted as Pharaoh's cleverness in duping the Israelites into servitude. So it refers to a corruption of speech, which would parallel the corruption of speech found in the actions of a malshin.
The corruption of speech is also at the heart of the incident that gave rise to the Egyptian's attempt to beat the husband of Shlomit bas Divri to death. Chazal say her name refers to her talkativeness that drew negative attention to her, culminating in her conception of the child who would become the mekalel  with the Egyptian.

Realted posts: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/10/dvar-yehudah-parsha-points-from-my.html
http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-blame-kamtza.html

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