Turn the Other Cheek

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Bo
Turn the Other Cheek

Before we begin analyzing some of the aspects contained in Parshas Bo, let us take a peek into next week's Parsha, Beshalach, for a moment.

During Keriyas Yam Suf the verse says, "And the waters were a 'chomah' (wall) to them" (Beshalach, 14:21). The Yalkut Shimoni (Beshalach, Remez 234) tells us that at that time, the Samech Mem angel began to prosecute against the Jewish people claiming that the Jews were a bunch of idolaters. Why would Hashem perform miracles on their behalf?

The Samech Mem spoke in such a loud voice that the angel that was appointed over the water overheard his prosecution. Hearing about how low the Jewish people had fallen, the angel that was appointed over the water was filled with rage against the Jews. This angelic wrath is hinted to in the word "chomah" (wall). When the vowels of this word are rearranged, it spells the word "chaimah" which means "wrath." He thought to himself, "Why should I part the waters for such wicked people?" The angel decided that he was going to drown the Jews together with the Egyptians.

Suddenly, Hashem responded to the Samech Mem's complaint in a loud voice so that the water angel could overhear. Hashem said, "You fool. Do you think that the Jews ever wanted to worship idols? They only did so because of the harsh slavery. They were overwhelmed and confused. Only in that state did they sin. Are you equating the Jews who sinned accidentally with the Egyptians who sinned intentionally?" The water angel understood that he could not compare the Jews to the Egyptians. Therefore, he spared the Jews, but caused the waters to come crashing down upon the Egyptians.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that from this Midrash we see that, deep down, every Jew wants to do God's will. But, sometimes, when the Jew wants to bring those good intentions to fruition, there are certain obstacles which stand in his way, preventing him from doing so.

For example, there is the Yetzer Hara who makes us crazy with lustful passions, laziness, and depression, just to name a few. Additionally, there are threats from the nations surrounding us which terrify us. We also have to deal with a host of other stresses in life such as medical, financial, and familial issues.

In other words, we are so "gehocked" and distracted by all of these pressures that we become worn down to the point where, eventually, we give in to temptation and desire. In the weakened state that we find ourselves in, it is hard to muster up the strength to carry out God's will.

This idea is echoed in the tefillah of Rebbi Alexandari which says, "Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that our will is to do Your will. So, what prevents us? The yeast in the dough (a reference to the Yetzer Hara) and the bondage we suffer at the hands of the nations. May it be Your will that we be saved from their hands, and we will return to do Your will with a complete heart" (Berachos, chap. 2, "Haya Korei", pg. 17a).

Now, only God knows what we are feeling and thinking deep down. That is why Rebbi Alexandari said, "It is revealed and known before You." The emphasis is on Hashem. Only God knows our deepest and most intimate thoughts. By inference we can deduce that angels do not know what we are thinking and feeling inside. Angels only see our outer actions.

Therefore, the Samech Mem prosecuted against us for the idolatry he saw us commit externally with our bodies. However, Hashem defended us by looking at our souls internally. Deep down, our hearts were not into it.

This information will help explain a number of aspects contained within this week's Parsha, Bo. It says that Hashem "passed over" the Jewish homes and came crashing down on the Egyptian homes during Makas Bechoros (the plague of slaying of the first born; Rashi commenting on 12:11). The difficulty is that Hashem does not have a body with which to jump. Rather, everything Hashem does is accomplished with His will. Since Hashem willed the first-born Egyptians to die, they died. Since Hashem willed the Jewish first-born to live, they lived. What does "passing over" mean?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the soul resides inside of the body very much like we reside in a house. Our bodies house our souls. Therefore, when it says that Hashem "passed over" our homes, it really means that He "overlooked" the actions committed by our bodies. Instead, Hashem focused on our hearts desire which was, and still is, to do Hashem's will.

This also explains why Moshe added something on top of Hashem's command. Hashem told Moshe to command the Jewish people to shmear the lintel and doorposts of their homes with the blood from the Korban Pesach (Bo, 12:7-13). When Moshe repeated this charge to the Jews, he added that they should also not go outside of their homes all night long, but rather stay indoors (Bo, 12:22).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that there were at least two messages Moshe wanted to convey to them with this addition. The first message was that although it is nice that Hashem is willing to overlook our external actions and focus on our deep-rooted wills internally, nevertheless, we must not become complacent with this level. Rather, we must strive to improve ourselves so that our external actions mirror our internal wills.

Therefore, Moshe said that nobody was allowed to leave their homes that night. Meaning, there would be a curfew in place, disallowing anybody from "going to town" to "hang out" and commit crimes like idolatry.

The second message was as follows. Moshe said, "Do not go outside," meaning, do not focus on what sins you have committed on the outside. Rather, "Stay inside," meaning, focus on that holy spark you have on the inside. Don't ever let go of that inner desire to do Hashem's will. Constantly be aware that deep down we only want to do what's right. Let us not define ourselves by some negative external actions we may have committed, but rather by our holy internal spark.

The command of staying indoors is connected to the juxtaposed commandment of shmearing the blood of the Korban Pesach on the lintel and doorposts. This connection can be understood based on the Ba'al Hatanya (Likkutei Amarim, chap. 18) who says that every Jew has a pure soul that he has inherited from the Avos Hekedoshim. Even Jewish transgressors posses this holy spark within them. The only reason why these people continue to sin is because that spark is currently sleeping. However, when faced with certain situations, that spark can easily be awakened to the point where even those transgressors are willing to give up their lives to sanctify Hashem's Name.

Now, the Midrash (Shemos Rabba, 17:3) says that the blood on the lintel represents Avraham Avinu, and the blood on the two doorposts represent Yitzchak and Ya'akov Avinu. This was meant to awaken Zechus Avos which would protect the Jews.

However, on a deeper level, the blood on the lintel and doorposts was meant to awaken the Avos within each and every Jew. This explains why Moshe commanded them not to leave their homes, juxtaposed to the shmearing of the blood. If the shmearing of the blood represented the Avos within each one of them, then it makes sense that Moshe would say, "Stay indoors." Meaning, focus on that holy spark inside of you which was inherited from the Avos. Never let go of it. In other words, define yourselves by the holiness inside, and not by some external actions on the outside.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains what our answer is to the wicked son's question. The wicked son asks, "What is this service to you" (Bo, 12:26). The Torah tells us, "Va'amartem (and you will say), it is a Pesach feast offering to Hashem" (Bo, 12:27). The problem is that the wicked son already knows that it's a Pesach offering, but, in his wickedness, he is making fun of the mitzvah. What kind of answer are we giving to this child? What have we added?

The answer is that the word "Va'amartem" refers to soft speech. Hashem is instructing us to speak to him softly. In a soft tone we say to him that this is a "Pesach." We are not informing him about what type of korban this is, because he already knows that. Rather we are conveying to him that this is "Passover," meaning Hashem is "overlooking" any wrongdoing.

In other words, we tell the wicked son that Hashem overlooked the sinful actions of our ancestors in Egypt, and Hashem is willing to overlook his negative actions as well. Just as Hashem focused on the holy spark within our ancestors, Hashem is focusing on his holy inner self.

In other words, we are informing this child that he has such holiness on the inside that even he may not have been aware of that. We tell this wicked son that deep down he really wants to do the right thing. It's just that circumstances in his life may have weakened him which causes him to succumb to temptations.

This also explains something else. The verse says that the Jews bowed their heads in thankfulness when they heard Hashem say that they would have children who would ask, "What is this service to you?" (Bo, 12:27; Rashi there citing Mechilta). This question comes from the wicked son (Haggadah Shel Pesach). Why were they so happy about having wicked children? Having wicked children is certainly not the typical aspiration of Jewish parents.

It is because the Jews heard Hashem say that He is willing to "overlook" the evil external actions committed by these children, and focus on their innate holiness on the inside. This communicated to them that even their wicked children have a holy spark within them that could flare up at any moment. Even the worst-case scenario was comforting to them because they understood that deep down their "wicked children" were really tzaddikim inside (Shvilei Pinchas).

This addresses something else. The Haggadah tells us to give a different answer to the wicked son than the Torah does. The Torah's answer was mentioned above: "Va'amartem" etc. However, in the Passover Haggadah it says that we must blunt his teeth (Hakheh Es Sheenav). Then we are to tell him a different verse which says, "It is because of this that Hashem did for me when I went out from Egypt" (Bo, 13:8). By inference, we tell the wicked son, "For me but not for you. If you would have been there you would not have been redeemed."

This is shocking! How could the Anshei K'nesses Hagedolah, who put the Haggadah together, tell us to give this son a different answer than the one that Hashem Himself prescribed for us in the Torah?

Based on a teaching from the Alexander Rebbe, perhaps we could answer this question as follows. The answer provided in the Haggadah is not a different answer than the one found in the Torah. Rather, the answer in the Haggadah embellishes upon it and compliments the Torah's answer. Let us explain.

The Haggadah says, "Hakheh Es Sheenuv." How could we be told to punch this son in the face, breaking some of his teeth? What happened to the verse which describes all the Torah's paths as being pleasant and peaceful (Mishlei, 3:17)? Do we actually think that after this son is bleeding from our blows, he's going to see the sweetness of Torah and say, "Where can I sign up?"

This translation (blunt his teeth) is perhaps the grossest translation ever given to anything found in Rabbinic literature. It doesn't say, "Bash his teeth in." It says something else. Let us explain.

This child is called a "Rasha" (wicked person). The word "Rasha" is spelled: reish, shin, ayin. The outside letters, reish and ayin, spell the word "Ra," which means evil. The reason why the word "Ra" is found on the outside letters is because it comes to teach us that he is only evil with respect to his external actions on the outside.

However, on the inside of the word "Rasha," there is the letter shin. The shape of a letter shin has three branches. Those three branches represent the three Avos: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.

As a matter of fact, sometimes the shape of a letter shin has four branches. Take a look at the letter shin imprinted on the outside of the box of Tefillin Shel Rosh. On the right side there is a shin with three branches, but on the left side there is a shin with four branches. The four branches of a shin represent the four Imahose: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.

This is what the "Rasha" has on the inside; a letter shin. Meaning, he has a soul with the compounded holiness of the Avos and Imahose. Therefore, do not pronounce the words as "Hakheh Es SHEENAV" which translates as "Punch his teeth," but rather pronounce the words as, "Hakheh Es SHINUV" which translates as, "Tap his 'shin'."

Meaning, we must tap into his inner holiness. More than that, we must help him tap into his own innate holiness. Remind him that his neshama is so pure and holy because he inherited it from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Help the "Rasha" become aware of the fact that he carries the kedusha of the Avos and Imahose around with him on the inside all the time.

Moreover, the letters which make up the Hebrew word "rasha" serve as the acronym of "Ribono Shel Olam" (Master of the Universe). Our message to the "rasha" is, "Do you know just how close you are to the Ribono Shel Olam? I bet you thought that you were so distant from Him. I bet you thought that you were disgusting in His eyes. You are making a mistake. Hashem is so close to you. He loves you and He is just waiting for you to realize who you really are."

If this is the understanding behind the words, "Hakheh Es Shinuv," how does the rest of the paragraph in the Haggadah fit into this? The rest of the paragraph says, "Me and not you. If you were there you would not have been redeemed." This contradicts what we just told the "Rasha." A moment ago, we told him that he is a Tzaddik on the inside. Now we are telling him that he would have perished, implying that he is not such a Tzaddik.

Perhaps we could suggest that we should read the rest of the paragraph as a question, not as a statement. Meaning, it should sound something like this, "Me and not you? If you were there, do you think you would not have been redeemed? Of course not. You would have marched out of Mitzrayim at my side, because you really are a Tzaddik inside."

Practically speaking, we should begin each day by looking into the mirror and articulate the following proclamation, "No matter what mistakes or sins I have committed in the past, there is a holy spark within me that remains unscathed. In that place I am a holy Tzaddik. In that place I am pure, and from there I am close to God, and from there I can get even closer to Him."

This will help build our self-confidence even more and empower us to turn to Hashem even if we have made some grave mistakes in the past.

But, each day we should also make this declaration about others and say," No matter what mistakes or sins he has committed in the past, there is a holy spark within him that remains unscathed. In that place he is a holy Tzaddik. In that place he is pure, and from there he can come close to Hashem, his Parent."

This exercise will renew our faith in people. This is extremely effective when dealing with our children and students.

So, may we all be blessed to tap into that inner-self of ours and realize that deep down we are holy and that we really want to do what's right. May we also see this in our children, in our students, in our relatives, in our friends, and in others in general. In this merit, may we deserve that Hashem "jump" over us, striking all of our enemies down, and then may He carry us on His wings and fly us all back home, where we will be reunited once again with our Forefathers: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.