Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

Yesterday and the Day Before

The Exodus from Egypt was a complex and difficult operation, requiring two goals: 1) Convincing Bnei Yisrael that it was going to occur and getting them to the level at which they would be worthy of it. 2) Convincing Paroh to set the people free or force him to do so.

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Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Tevet 24 5782
The Exodus from Egypt was a complex and difficult operation, requiring two separate goals to be achieved: 1) Convincing Bnei Yisrael that it was going to occur and getting them to the level at which they would be worthy of it. 2) Convincing Paroh to set the people free or force him to do so.

Working on these tasks were not only Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam but also the elders and the Jewish taskmasters (shotrim), with each group having its role. The shotrim had to protect the nation from Paroh’s decrees and his attempt to break the Jewish slaves’ spirit. The shotrim paid a heavy price, as they were beaten violently when their brethren were unable to keep up with the escalating work demands (Shemot 5:14). They also received a great reward. They achieved prophecy (Shemot Rabba 5:20), became leaders (Bamidbar Rabba 12:16), and became members of Sanhedrin (Rashi, Shemot 5:14).

The elders were supposed to help convince the people of the upcoming liberation (Shemot 4:29). They were also supposed to take part in the negotiations with Paroh, but they were too afraid of him to make it all the way to the palace with Moshe (Rashi, Shemot 5:1). Their negative payback is that when Moshe approached the Divine Presence on Sinai to receive the Torah, the elders had to remain behind (ibid. 24:1-2).

Shemot, ch. 5 describes the meeting between Moshe and Aharon and Paroh, in which they demanded that Paroh allow the nation to go and serve Hashem. The results were extremely harsh. Not only did Paroh not agree to set the slaves free, but he doubled down on the slavery, with the following new directives: "You will no longer receive the straw to make the bricks like you did yesterday and the day before (kit’mol shilshom). Rather, they shall go and gather straw" (ibid. 5:7). "The amount of bricks that they made t’mol shilshom shall be placed upon them …" (ibid. 8). Then the taskmasters were beaten because of the claim, "Why did you not complete the quota to make bricks kit’mol shilshom?" After the turn for the worse, Moshe and Aharon lost popularity with the people, who accused them of compromising their already tenuous position.

Clearly the key phrase to this section is t’mol shilshom. The phrase comes up in a slightly altered fashion at Moshe’s "negotiations" with Hashem, recorded as part of the discussion at the burning bush. Moshe argued against his leadership by claiming that "I am not a man of words, neither t’mol nor shilshom" (Shemot 4:10). We have posited (see Tzofnat Yeshayahu, p. 198-209) that the instructions to Moshe of how to approach his mission found in ch. 5-6 actually preceded those found in the section on the burning bush. That is the reason that in expressing his lack of willingness to take up the task, he used the term of t’mol shilshom, claiming that his lack of ability to speak was part of what caused the fiasco of the increased work requirements highlighted with that phrase.

We do not believe that a process of liberation will come without difficulties, and it is necessary to follow a long road toward it. Belief and patience are the tools for dealing with these challenges.
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