Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Beshalach 3

“For as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again.” (14; 13)

I have already written the following story in my book ‘Makor Baruch’. But since it relates to this verse, and since it contains a gem of Torah, and is also a story from my youth which is dear to me despite the passage of many years, I have decided to retell it here.
This is the story:
Many decades ago I spent Shabbat with my uncle (who was also my brother-in-law) the Netziv. It was Parshat Beshalach, and on Motzei Shabbat many of the wise men from the Yeshiva were sitting around the table, and I was with them. Just then a man came to the house, one of the people of the town, and came to ask my uncle a question about something that had just occurred on that day. He began to speak:
‘More than twenty years ago, after many years of partnership in business with Mr ‘A’, we had a fight. The dispute became so bitter that I took a vow that I would never look him in his face again. For all these years I have kept this vow completely. However, today this man has just passed away. I wanted to go now, on his last day on this earth, to look at him one last time and ask him for forgiveness, as is the custom. But I am afraid that I may not be permitted to do so because of my vow. This is my question. Am I permitted to look now at his face in order to ask his forgiveness?
My uncle turned to the assembled guests at the table and asked them to give their opinions on the matter. Almost all of them focussed on one point, which was that ‘had he known that this would happen he would not have made the vow’ (a phrase from the Gemara which allows the judge to nullify the vow). They discussed this at length, in all its details.
When it came my turn to give my opinion, I told them that I was amazed at their uncertainty. I told them that it was only a few hours ago that we read the solution to this problem in the Torah. And this answer is so clear that it does not leave room for any doubt or further discussion.
All of them looked at me incredulously and waited for my solution.
I explained: It has only been a few hours since we read in parshat hashavua (I have already explained that it was just after Parshat Beshalach). G-d promised us “For as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them again”. Later in the same parsha it states “And Israel saw Egypt dead….” We see clearly that ‘seeing’ normally applies only to live people and not to the dead.
Furthermore, perhaps you will tell me that this was only superficial ‘seeing’, glancing at the corpses. In which case this is not an answer to our question, since our questioner wishes to actually look at the face of the deceased. For this I will bring you the Midrash which tells us that each Israelite recognised the Egyptian who had persecuted him, and saw him dead. So we see that even looking properly at someone who is dead is not included in the normal usage of the word ‘to see’. Therefore the oath not to look at his partner again, only applies to during his lifetime, and not after his death.
Based on my words my uncle permitted the questioner to go and look at the deceased and ask for forgiveness. The next morning my uncle told me that he had spent the night thinking of beautiful gems hidden in the Torah, and that this insight of mine had been one of them. With great feelings of love he wished me ‘yashar kochacha’ - ‘well done’.

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