Monday, January 07, 2013

Do the needs of the individual outweigh the needs of the group? -- a difficult Chofetz Chaim

Last week's parsha ends on a bit of a sour note.  In response to Moshe's request to let the Jewish people go free Pharoah doubled-down on the oppressive work, the people lost faith in Moshe, and perhaps they even lost a measure of faith in the message of geulah.  Moshe turns to G-d and, to sum up his question in one word, asks, "Why?"  Why is the suffering only increasing now that the promise of geulah is supposedly here?  Hashem responds by telling Moshe that he will now witness Hashem's might in striking against Pharoah.  

Many of the meforshim are bothered: How did Hashem's response answer the question?  Moshe was told already at the burning bush that he would be the redeemer of Klal Yisrael; we expect Pharoah to be judged and persecuted if he refuses to let them go.  Why start off on the wrong foot and give Pharaoh the upper hand, give the people doubt, cause more suffering and grief?  Why not immediately force Pharaoh to free them?

Perhaps we are wrong to even search for an answer.  It seems from Rashi at the beginning of this week's parsha that Moshe is criticized for even asking the question.  He is contrasted with the Avos and found wanting.  Perhaps there are questions that are not meant to be asked, as they cannot be answered in a way that we can understand.  Perhaps all that we can do is accept the mystery as-is.  This approach is discomforting to us.  We don't like limits on inquiry; we don't like constraints on what we can ask and we don't really respect the fact that there are limits on our understanding.  

The Chofetz Chaim reads Hashem's response as an answer, but it is one that troubles me greatly.  Based on the prophecy of Bris bein haBesarim Bnei Yisrael were supposed to spend 400 years in galus.  Rather than prolong the stay in galus for that many years, Hashem arranged for the workload to be increased.  This qualitative increase would substitute for the quantitative duration of time, i.e. 400 years of slavery would be compressed into 210 years of qualitatively more severe suffering.  This is what Moshe was witnessing.  What was the purpose?  Hashem responses to Moshe, "You will now witness what I will do to Pharoah."  Had the galus gone on for 400 years, you, Moshe, would not be around to see the ultimate redemption.  It's for your sake, so that you should see the geulah, that the suffering of Bnei Yisrael must increase now to hasten the redemption and allow it to occur in your lifetime.  

In other words, the suffering of the entire Jewish nation was increased so that a single individual, Moshe, would benefit by being able to personally witness geulah.  Wow!  I don't even know how to make sense of such an idea.  Do the needs of a single individual, no matter how great, trump those of the nation as a whole?   

The chassidic seforim (Shem m'Shmuel, Kedushas Levi, the Sefas Emes has this other places in the parsha) explain that the geulah from Mitzrayim is the paradigm for all future geulos.  The history of the Jewish people is cyclical, not linear -- we continue to relive the past of the Avos and Shevatim again and again.  For this reason the galus of Mitzrayim had to be the deepest, darkest, most bleak galus imaginable, and the redemption had to take place precisely in a climate where hope had been completely extinguished.  This would provide the model that would allow for future redemptions, such as the one we hope to experience in our lifetimes, to take place under those exact same conditions.  "You will witness what I will do to Pharoah," Hashem told Moshe, alluding, as Rashi notes, to the fact that Moshe will not witness the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, which in turn, because it was not led by Moshe, would ultimately be followed by another exile.  Because there will be other exiles, and in turn other redemptions, the galus of Mitzrayim had to be made more severe so that it could serve as the paradigm of those future experiences.  


  1. great unknown9:52 PM

    There appears to be another conceptual difficulty with the pshat of the Chofetz Chaim. I always understood that the suffering, in many different aspects, was intensified for many years to allow a hastening of the geulah. Indeed in a footnote there it seems that each year was made more difficult in a precisely calibrated manner to reduce the ultimate duration.

    This pshat implies that 190 years [or at least a major number of years, at least forty] were chopped off of the galus in exchange for several months of more difficult labor. Not the killing of the children, not the prishus derech eretz for decades, not the avodas perach, just approximately six months of intensified labor.

    However, as far as the benefit to Moshe outweighing the suffering of Klal Yisroel, the vort does say that "לא לרעת כלל ישראל ח"ו ". It seems that the shortening of the galus inherent in the extra suffering was judged not to be a net loss to Klal Yisroel. Thus, there could be a benefit to Moshe Rabbeinu at no real cost to the rabbim.

    Perhaps there was indeed a non-linear relationship involved here. Just as the final maka [in beis din] is much more painful than the preceeding one, because of the cumulative effect, it could be that the intensity of the final few months were worth a far greater reduction in the duration of the galus than the preceeding years of suffering.

  2. Anonymous10:50 PM


    not until Mitzrayim went beyond the deformed yet recognizable exploitation
    of bnei Yisrael, would Hashem decisively intervene to redeem-- using
    Hebrews to make bricks was homologous enough to Holy slaves stacking blocks of the Mikdash, & though separating out straw/chaff, winnowing,
    was done to prepare showbread for the shulchan, no homologue to the collection of straw/tofel was involved in upright Israelite service; only
    when that utterly foreign task was imposed on His suffering children, was
    Hashem ready to Rumble [stand aside, Shemeshone, for Devastation Big Time]...

  3. chaim b.5:33 PM

    >>>It seems that the shortening of the galus inherent in the extra suffering was judged not to be a net loss to Klal Yisroel.

    Exactly what I don't understand. Klal Yisrael lost hope and faced additional burdens that they had not faced before (that's why their complaining increased) -- how can you call that a wash?
    To answer my own question, I assume you have to say that G-d knew that had another 190 years gone by the pain and loss of hope caused by the extended duration of the slavery would be equivalent to the qualitative increase.
    So the pshat has to be given the choice of 6 in one hand or half a dozen in the other, do what's best for Moshe.

  4. > It seems from Rashi at the beginning of this week's parsha that Moshe is criticized for even asking the question

    I wonder if this is even the right question. Moshe Rabeinu is told in last week's parsha specifically that Pharoah will cause trouble and refuse to let the people go so that God can show His might hand. So the question is: why did Moshe Rabeinu ask the question "Why are you doing this" in the first place?

    1. great unknown6:58 PM

      Refuse to let the people go, yes. Make them suffer more, no. The critical question was, "למה הרעות"
      From the response, at a simple level, it appears that Moshe did not take into account the truth that Hashem was integrating everything from the viewpoint of past, present, and ultimate future benefit; i.e., at some subtle level, he didn't trust Hashem.

  5. chaim b.7:38 PM

    I want to take back my own comment from before. The problem with the CC is understanding Moshe's hava amina. M'mah nafshacha -- if Moshe was questioning the suffering because he did not know that a qualitative increase in pain would mean a quantitative diminishment in years of servitude, then the revelation of that fact should have been the answer, not that it was being done for his sake. And if Moshe did understand the that fact, then why was he raising the question at all -- 6 in one hand, half dozen in the other, it amounts to the same thing anyway no matter how you slice it.

    >>>it appears that Moshe did not take into account the truth that Hashem was integrating everything from the viewpoint of past, present, and ultimate future benefit

    You've been reading too much Havolim : )

    1. על אחרון ראשון ועל ראשון אחרון:
      1. a) It's refreshing to enjoy the הבל פיו of a תינוק של בית רבן

      b) The concept that Moshe did not trust Hashem regarding the future is explicit in the
      posuk and mefarshim. Otherwise the whole חבל על דאבדין is incomprehensible.

      c) just posted a cite to פחד יצחק ראש השנה מאמר י"א פרק א' סימן ג et. seq. on Havolim.
      On some level it seems that Moshe Rabbeinu was lacking in grasping the concept of ברוך דיין האמת. [Which may be related to the reason יתרו had to make the ברכה on גאולת ישראל ממצרים.] [And is likely related to [ כי ירא להביט אל [מידת הדין. About which there is an argument if that was meritorious or the opposite. But I digress: I have several drashot on the subject, ואכמ"ל].

      2. What the חפץ חיים seems to be introducing is not the issue of כל מה דעביד but הכרת הטוב. One of the underlying themes of פרשת שמות is the tikkun of the כפיית טוב of אדה"ר. "Moshe, you may have understood that in the overall picture, this was not a net negative for כלל ישראל, but because of your emotions you would have preferred this process not to have occurred.* You failed to understand that it was also a net positive for you." It is easier to have historical בטחון than personal בטחון.

      *A father ר"ל knowing his child's amputation will save his life, but...

      Again, this implies a criticism of אבי הנביאים; but the context requires it, does it not?

  6. Oh, and to quote Spock, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few". To which Kirk adds "Or the one".

  7. Oh, and to quote halacha, "The lives of the many do NOT outweigh the life of the one."

  8. There's nothing wrong with reading havolim, as long as it's the right kind of Havolim. As far as the lives of the many, you know that if they were meyacheid one person, not everyone agrees that he has to be chayav misa k'Sheva ben Bichri in order for us to hand him over. The Chazon Ish in Sanhedrin 25, for example, is not sure if we really pasken like Reish Lakish against Reb Yochanan in their machlokes in the Yerushalmi Terumos 8:4.

  9. I was wondering if that Yerushalmi tied in here -- I wasn't aware of that Chazon Ish.

    1. After we leave the yeshiva, it's good to have a way to interact with people, because there's always something to learn, but it's not always so easy to find, and often, the interactions are brief and superficial and competitive. That's one of the most important reasons I have my website too.

  10. there is the ramban as well that says hashem closed yocheveds womb so she could give birth to Moshe at the right time of the Geula. So we do see something that Moshe had to be there, see it, and do it. Something like an eidei kiyuma milsa.