In the Torah portion of Shmos, we read how Moshe beheld two of his brethren arguing. He said to one of them: "Evil person! Why would you smite your brother?"
As the verse states "why would you smite" rather than "why have you smitten," our Sages deduce that "If one but raises his hand against his neighbor, even if he does not actually hit him, he is still considered 'evil.' "
When one raises a hand against another, he is doing more than threatening to inflict pain; he is acting in an evil and ugly manner. Thus, the very act of lifting one's hand is intrinsically wrong, and a person who does so is considered "evil."
On a deeper level, the reason such behavior is considered evil is as follows: Man was created to "serve his Maker," by performing Torah and mitzvos with each of his limbs and organs; the hand, for example denotes giving. In fact, we can say that the hand's ultimate purpose is to give unstintingly.
When one raises a hand against another, however, he is using that limb in the most demeaning manner, thereby sinning against G-d as well as against man. For instead of using his hand for kindness, he is using it for cruelty.
Moreover, since most of the commandments involve action, the hands are thus what performs most of the mitzvos. When a person uses his hands in an antithetical manner, he is thereby contradicting the purpose of his creation - that is, "to serve his Maker."
With regard to G-d, the sin begins as soon as the hand is lifted against a fellow, for in so lifting, the hand is being used for something that is completely contrary to the purpose of its creation.
Since Torah preceded the world, and in this state sin does not exist, we must say that in every Torah matter there is also an inner dimension that is entirely good. So too, lifting one's hand against one's fellow can be explained in a wholly laudatory manner:
There are actually several explanations: When a person "raises his hand" in order to cut another person as part of a life-saving operation, for example, then the act is all for the good.
Moreover, in light of the earlier explanation that the evil involved in raising one's hand is the use of the hand in a manner at odds with the reason for which it was created, we may say that the same can occur in a positive sense. This means that a person can use his hand for doing goodness in an unnatural manner; his level of giving going far beyond his natural inclinations.
By doing so, he is "raising" his hand, as it were, to a more elevated spiritual level, so that he now gives his friend even more than necessary.
Thus we find that there are two ways of providing for another's needs: "Providing the person with that which he is lacking," and "Making the other person wealthy."
Herein lies the practical lesson in our own lives: Aside from the clear instruction that we are to distance ourselves from any semblance of violence against our neighbors, there is also a lesson to be learned with regard to the raising of one's hand in a positive manner:
We are to see to the needs of our neighbors and perform for them acts of kindness and goodness in a way that exceeds our natural inclination. Furthermore, we are to do so to such an extent that we raise and elevate our hands - and our very beings - to a level that surpasses all limitations.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXI, pp. 1-7.
- (Back to text) Shmos 2:13.
- (Back to text) Sanhedrin 58b.
- (Back to text) Mishnah and Beraisa conclusion of Kiddushin.
- (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah 8:2; Tanchuma, Vayeishev 4, et al.
- (Back to text) Sifri and Rashi, Re'eh 15:8; Kesuvos 67b.
on the verse
"and she placed him in the rushes on the edge of the river," explains that Yocheved placed the basket containing Moshe on the shore of the Nile, rather than in the river itself. Later in the portion of Shmos, however, we read that Pharaoh's daughter "called him Moshe, for 'I drew him from the water.' "
How are we to reconcile the explanation of the Targum that the basket was placed on the shore, with the princess's statement that Moshe was found in the river?
The Rogatchover Gaon explains that since the Egyptians regarded the Nile as a god, Yocheved was unable to save Moshe by placing him in the river, for one is forbidden to use an object of idolatry even to save a life. Yocheved therefore placed her son on the shore. But once Pharaoh's daughter "went down to cleanse herself in the Nile" - which our Sages interpret to mean "to cleanse herself from her father's idols" - she thereby nullified the idol, "and the basket was able to come within the river."
The Midrash explains that Moshe's being cast into the river also nullified the decree that "every male that is born is to be cast into the river."
Since all matters in Torah are precise, it is to be understood that the nullification of the idolatry and the nullification of the decree are both bound up with Moshe, the Redeemer of Israel.
What is the connection?
Pharaoh's decree that "every male that is born is to be cast into the Nile," the deity of Egypt, was intended to "drown" the Jewish people in the idolatry of Egypt.
The Egyptians deified the Nile because it was the natural source of their subsistence. For Egypt lacks rain, and so the growth of crops, etc., depends on the Nile overflowing and irrigating the fields.
It was because of this that the Nile was the deity of Egypt. For when one depends on rain, all lift their eyes up to Heaven" - one readily feels how one's existence depends on G-d. But when a river irrigates the land, one is not so aware of dependence on the A-mighty
Pharaoh's intent in casting the Jewish people into the Nile was that Jews as well should - Heaven forfend - bind themselves to the forces of nature.
This decree could only have an effect on the Jewish people after their descent into Egypt. As long as they were in Eretz Yisrael, a land where one sees and feels how G-d's Providence is responsible for even the most minute detail, it is impossible to fall into Pharaoh's trap.
Moreover, as long as there were some Jews who remembered life in Eretz Yisrael, the nation was incapable of making a god out of nature.
It was only after "Yosef, his brothers, and that entire generation died," and there was no one left who had lived in Eretz Yisrael, that the "descent" into Egypt was complete, and Pharaoh's decree could take hold.
Moshe was the one who saved the Jews from this decree, for he caused even those who had no knowledge of G-dliness as seen in Eretz Yisrael to acquire a belief in G-d that permeated their every deed and action; they became cognizant of G-dliness in all the "natural" things they did.
The nullification of the deity of the Nile and the nullification of the decree are thus related, for the decree to "cast into the Nile" is connected to the fact that the Nile was the Egyptian deity.
Moshe's very birth gave the Jewish people the strength to do battle with idolatry. As a matter of course, the decree was nullified as well.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, pp. 13-17.
- (Back to text) Unkelos.
- (Back to text) Shmos 2:3.
- (Back to text) Ibid., verse 10.
- (Back to text) Tzafnas Paneach Al HaTorah, ibid.
- (Back to text) See Pesachim 25a; Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:6-7; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah, ch. 155.
- (Back to text) Shmos 2:5.
- (Back to text) Sotah 12b; Tanchuma, Shmos 7; Shmos Rabbah on this verse.
- (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 1:21.
- (Back to text) Shmos 1:22.
- (Back to text) See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 111.
- (Back to text) Rashi beginning of Mikeitz; Vayigash 47:10. Sotah 13a; see also Sifri, Eikev 11:10; Bereishis Rabbah 13:9.
- (Back to text) See at length in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, p. 30.
- (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah, ibid. See also Yerushalmi, Taanis 3:5.
- (Back to text) Shmos 1:6.
- (Back to text) See Shmos Rabbah on this verse.