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Shmos:A Wicker Basket


Translated by N.G.E.

ולא יכלה עוד הצפינו ותקח לו תבת גמא... ותשם בה את הילד ותשם בסוף על שפת היאר
“She could not hide him any longer, so she took for him a wicker basket … she placed the child into it and placed it among the reeds at the bank of the River.” “Why wicker? R’Elazar said from here we may derive that the property of the righteous is dearer to them than their own bodies. And why do they care so much? Because their hands never touched stolen money.”

This is very difficult to understand! When the gemara says “Why wicker?” it is wondering why the basket wasn’t made of a stronger material. After all, it was meant to protect a baby who had a great future awaiting him, surely his mother wanted to protect him in the best manner possible! Wicker isn’t so strong, why didn’t she use wood which is much stronger? Here she had a special baby who filled the house with light and about whom his sister Miriam prophesied that he would redeem the Jewish People from Egypt. Now she was faced with the risk of losing his life, how could monetary considerations be taken into account? We understand that tzaddikim are sometimes willing to endure minor discomforts rather than incur expenses because whatever they have is theirs honestly and is therefore dear to them , but here is a case of pikuach nefesh! How are we to understand the words of Chazal here?

Further on in the parsha we learn how the baby is saved: ותרד בת פרעה לרחץ...ותשלח את אמתה ותקחה “Paroh’s daughter went down to bathe by the river …she sent her maidservant/ she stretched out her arm and she took it.” Rashi gives two different interpretations for the word אמתה. It could either mean her maidservant or her arm which extended many amos long. The basket was situated quite a distance away from Paroh’s daughter and she was only able to reach it by means of a miracle. Many ask why she even attempted to reach the baby if she knew that her arm wouldn’t be able to cover the distance between her and the basket. She didn’t know that a miracle would be performed for her so why did she even try?

A famous joke is told about a Rebbe who wanted to say Kiddush Levana but it was a very cloudy night and the moon was not visible. Many a great Rebbe in such a situation would wave their hands as if pushing the clouds away and indeed the clouds would miraculously move and reveal the moon. This “small” Rebbe wished to do likewise but first asked someone to bring him a chair to stand on so he would be a little closer to the clouds thus minimizing the miracle. Although this joke mocks Chassidim and their Rebbes’ miraculous powers, we can learn from it how silly we ourselves behave in our own lives believing that we bring about with our own sweat and toil what is really all a gift from Above.

We humans, mere flesh and blood are creatures of habit and are deceived by nature and routine. Hashem created nature and we are so enveloped within it that it is difficult for us to see beyond its concealing veil. We see people working, each in his own profession, earning a living. We conclude that each person earns his own keep, some earning more and some less. A talented carpenter for instance, builds beautiful tables and earns a respectable salary of $70,000 a year. He attributes this to his skill and craftsmanship, his unique style and his regular clientele and assumes that business is assured for many years to come. We know however that any number of calamities might befall this carpenter causing drastic changes in his financial situation. War could break out and buying new furniture will be the farthest thing from people’s minds or another carpenter may open shop across the street offering similar tables at half the price and the competition might rob him of all his regular customers. Or he may indeed continue to sell his tables but his house might be broken into or a pipe might burst, costing a fortune to repair. So many things can and do occur and yet we are so accustomed to going to work and receiving our paychecks that we forget that we are not the ones who earn parnasa. We forget that Hashem runs the world down to every last detail.

When one thinks that he controls his life, bringing about desired results with his own efforts, he is being just as absurd as the Rebbe who stood on a chair thinking it would bring him closer to the clouds. We will yet discuss what kind of effort is required of the believing Jew because after all אדם לעמל יולד, man was born to toil , but only after he has established a firm belief in Hashem.

Let us examine Chazal’s approach. וברכך ה' אלוקך בכל אשר תעשה “and Hashem your G-d will bless you in all that you do” Hashem created man to toil so that he would not spend his life being idle. Ever since Hashem told Adam Harishon בזעת אפך תאכל לחם “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” it was decreed upon man to toil but he must remember that it isn’t his toil that sustains him. The toil is what justifies man’s receiving his livelihood from Above because he acted as he was commanded. השקיפה ממעון קדשך מן השמים וברך את עמך ישראל “Gaze down from Your holy abode, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel” The gemara explains: We did what you commanded us, now You do as You promised. In other words, our toil is to fulfill Hashem’s commandment to love work, be involved in it and not to be a burden on others but then we must daven and hope that Hashem bestows parnasa and blessing upon us. Two people may have similar jobs and invest the same amount of time and effort but one will be successful while the other will not, because it isn’t the effort which brings parnasa rather Hashem.

This is true not only regarding parnasa but about every aspect of our lives.We for instance, would never reach out to grasp something beyond our reach because as human beings placed in this world, we assume that taking something within our reach is natural and attainable while that beyond our reach is unattainable. We are used to stretching our arm and being able to lift something up. We do it so many times a day that we perceive ourselves as the cause for the object being raised. In truth, our reaching out and lifting the object is a wondrous act itself, a true gift from Hashem! It is just as wondrous to pick up ordinary objects within our reach as it was for Paroh’s daughter to reach Moshe from a distance. Do we really think it is more difficult for Hashem to help us reach something further away than it is for Him to help us reach something nearby? They are both wondrous acts performed by Hashem.

Now we return to that with which we began. The Brisker Rav spent his later years in Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh. He once went to see Professor Tzundak, a well respected doctor. The professor took out a pad of paper to write down his course of treatment but noticed that the Rav had paled considerably and had started trembling. When asked what was wrong the Rav replied: “The paper you are about to write on is hospital stationary, do you have permission to use it also for your private patients?” He didn’t want to be the cause of gezel (theft) even though the paper was worth less than a pruta. We all have heard how careful the Chofetz Chaim was before selling any of his books. He would check each and every page to make certain it wasn’t damaged in any way and he also would never take more than the one ruble he charged per book. The Steipler Rav even in his later years would go over each page of his seforim before selling them. He wanted to be sure that the person buying the sefer would get what he was paying for: a complete sefer undamaged in any way. He didn’t want the money he received to be tainted with gezel even in the slightest. This is what Chazal meant when they said that the property of Tzaddikim is dearer to them than their own bodies. Tzaddikim also have temptations regarding money. Their yetzer also tells them at times that the other person certainly wouldn’t mind or that it is less than a “shaveh prutah”. Amram and Yocheved were tzaddikim who had such an appreciation for “kosher” money and such distaste for dishonesty. This coupled with the clarity that everything comes from Hashem, is what brought them to place their baby in a wicker basket. They knew that placing a three month old baby into the river was going to require a miracle even if they used the strongest materials available. They knew that everything we do in life requires Hashem’s intervention and that using wood instead of wicker would be like the Rebbe attempting to conceal the miracle by standing on a chair, not concealing anything at all. May we all be strengthened in our emunah and not be fooled by routine and may we all merit to see the revelation of Hashem’s glory with our own eyes with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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