U’Vnei Yisrael halchu vayabashah b’soch hayam (Shemos 14:29)
The Midrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni 234) that when the Jewish people were crossing the Red Sea, the prosecuting angel argued that it was inappropriate for Hashem to perform miracles on their behalf since they had worshipped idolatry in Egypt. This argument is difficult to understand. If their idolatrous practices represented a reason that Hashem shouldn’t perform miracles on their behalf, why did he wait until this point to make this argument instead of pressing his claim during the entire year that Hashem was performing the 10 plagues on their behalf?
The Meshech Chochmah answers by pointing out a curious apparent contradiction. With regard to commandments which are violated through actions, such as idolatry and forbidden relationships, the Torah prescribes an appropriate punishment, such as death, lashes, and kares (spiritual excision), for each transgression. On the other hand, no such punishment is given in conjunction with mitzvos that are transgressed through corrupt character traits, such as forbidden gossip or hating another Jew.
However, this dichotomy applies only to sins committed by an individual. Regarding communal sins, the rule is reversed. The Yerushalmi teaches (Peah 1:1) that the generation of Dovid Hamelech was righteous, yet they still fell in battle because they spread rumors about one another. The generation of Achav was full of wicked idolaters, yet they emerged successful and unscathed from their battles because they didn’t gossip about one another. He explains that if the nation is corrupt in idolatry or adultery, Hashem still dwells among them in the midst of their spiritual impurity, but if they are stricken with bad character traits, He metaphorically abandons them to return to the Heavens.
Because of the communal severity of interpersonal sins, the first Temple was destroyed for the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, and forbidden relationships, yet it was rebuilt relatively quickly. The second Temple was destroyed for the sin of gossip and baseless hatred, and has yet to be rebuilt (Yoma 9b). Similarly, Hashem forgave the Jewish people for the sin of idolatrously worshipping the Golden Calf, but He didn’t forgive them for the sin of the spies, which involved negative speech and a lack of gratitude, and decreed that they would die in the wilderness as a result.
With this introduction, the Meshech Chochmah explains that in Egypt, the Jewish people were steeped in the 49th level of spiritual impurity and worshipped idolatry just like the Egyptians. Nevertheless, they had one saving grace, in that they dwelled peacefully and didn’t gossip about one another (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5). As a result, Hashem forgave their other communal sins and miraculously performed the plagues to bring about their salvation, and the prosecuting angel had no grounds for his argument.
However, when they were trapped at the Red Sea by the pursuing Egyptians, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 233) teaches that they divided into four groups who fought about the appropriate strategy. Only at this time, when the Jewish nation lacked unity, was the prosecuting angel able to argue that they should be judged for their individual sins, such as idolatry, and Hashem should not perform further miracles on their behalf.
In these difficult times for our nation, let us strengthen ourselves in our pursuit of unity and love for our fellow Jews, and in that merit, Hashem should perform miracles for us just as He did for our ancestors in Egypt.
Parashah Q & A
Q: Because it was forbidden to collect the manna on Shabbos, a double portion fell on Erev Shabbos to last them until Sunday (16:22), which, according to the Mechilta, they split into two in order to make four loaves on Erev Shabbos. If one was consumed on Erev Shabbos, one at the Friday night meal, and one at the Shabbos day meal, how were they able to fulfill the requirement of lechem mishneh at seudah shelishis if only one loaf remained?
A: The Daas Z’keinim and Shibbolei HaLeket write that this question proves that one loaf of bread is sufficient for seudah shelishis and there is no requirement of lechem mishneh at this meal. The Daas Z’keinim also quotes another opinion which maintains that not only did a double portion of manna fall on Erev Shabbos, but the three loaves which were made from it for the purpose of Shabbos also miraculously doubled, resulting in six loaves for Shabbos and lechem mishneh for each of the three meals. Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, notes this dispute only pertains to somebody who was alone in the wilderness, as a family would have certainly had lechem mishneh remaining for seudah shelishis. The Perishah suggests that the entire concept of lechem mishneh on Shabbos is not dependent on the fact that the Jews in the wilderness ate lechem mishneh at that particular meal, but is a general commemoration of the miracle that a double supply of manna fell on Erev Shabbos. The Dagan Shamayim notes that the Rema also seems to agree with the Perishah, as he writes (Orach Chaim 291:4) that one must use lechem mishneh at every meal that one eats on Shabbos, even if one eats more than three meals. As a matter of halachah, the Shulchan Aruch rules that one must have lechem mishneh for seudah shelishis. The Rema notes that some people are lenient to use only one loaf at seudah shelishis, but he rules that one should be stringent and use two. The Mishnah Berurah writes that one should follow the strict opinion whenever possible.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.