Liquidity - Beshalach
Last week a friend asked me a Lechem-Panim-related question which got me thinking about something that had never occurred to me before. The question was about Beit Garmu.
As you know, Beit Garmu was a family of Levi’im in the time of the 2nd Beit Hamikdash, in charge of baking the Lechem Hapanim. Like other “appointees” (ממונים) in the Mikdash, they received a very respectable, even extravagant salary from the תרומת הלשכה, the fund of the מחצית השקל, i.e. from public funds. The חכמים asked them to reveal the secret of the Lechem Hapanim but Beit Garmu refused. Subsequently the חכמים fired them and unsuccessfully tried to replace them with bakers from Alexandria, who failed miserably in their attempts to bake the Lechem Hapanim. In order to get Beit Garmu to return to their work, the חכמים had to double their previous salary.
The question asked was – “Did Beit Garmu actually accept this extra money, or did they return it?”
Unfortunately the סוגיא in the Gemara (יומא לח, א) does not tell us that detail and I have never seen another source that explicitly deals with it. However, I believe the answer to the question may be found in this week’s parsha.
The two parshiyot that deal with the Exodus from Egypt, Bo and Beshalach have two central themes that pop up repeatedly. The first is MONEY and the second is WATER.
In last week’s parsha, Bo, HKB”H tells Moshe –
דבר נא באזני העם וישאלו איש מאת רעהו ואשה מאת רעותה כלי כסף וכלי זהב (שמות יא, ב).
The use of the word נא indicates supplication. It is almost as if HKB”H is saying to Moshe “Please Moshe, tell Bnei Yisrael to do me a favor, and ‘borrow’ gold and silver from the Egyptians!” Last week we discussed how during מכת חושך the Jews went around the houses of the Egyptians and mapped out the locations of all the valuables for when the time would come to ask them. So why does HKB”H almost have to beg Am Yisrael to take the Egyptians’ money? It is as if HKB”H knows that they would not willingly oblige, unless pressed to do so!
Chazal tell us that when Am Yisrael left Egypt, they each left with 90 Libyan donkeys (famed for their ability to carry heavy loads), stacked to the hilt with riches, gold, silver, precious stones, dollars, euros, bearer bonds! (בכורות ה, ב)
Later, in this week’s parsha, Beshalach, the Midrash tells us that after the Egyptians drowned in ים סוף, all the valuables they were carrying in their chariots floated to the surface and Am Yisrael went crazy piling even more loot on their 90 poor donkeys that were already sagging under the weight.
I don’t get it. Initially HKB”H has to convince Am Yisrael, דבר נא, to take the money, now Moshe Rabbeinu has to forcibly get them to stop stuffing Euros in their pouches and move on - ויסע משה את ישראל מים סוף (שמות טו, כב).
Water is a central, repetitive theme in this week’s parsha.
The splitting of the Red Sea is the main feature in our parsha. Immediately after קריעת ים סוף the Torah tells us that Am Yisrael traveled for three days in מדבר שור where they could not find water. They then arrive in מרה where the water is bitter and unsuitable for drinking. Moshe is commanded by Hashem to throw a stick from a tree into the water that sweetens it and makes it drinkable. Am Yisrael then move on to the next stop, אֵילִמָה, where there are 12 springs of water and seventy palm trees. Later in the parsha the Torah tells us that Am Yisrael travelled to רפידים where again, there was no water to drink.
I don’t understand. HKB”H is כל יכול. Immediately after the greatest supernatural miracle ever in history, He could not take Am Yisrael to places where there was water fit for drinking, like םאֵילִ? Why was it necessary to take them to מרה where the water was bitter and רפידים where there was no water?
In parshat מסעי which details the journey of Am Yisrael in the desert and all the stops, most destinations are simply mentioned by name alone. Only if something out of the ordinary happened there is a comment added. The water-related stops mentioned above are specifically embellished in parshat מסעי. But what about other stops where something extraordinary happened, like אלוש, where they first received the מן? That’s not something extraordinary? What about מדבר סיני where Am Yisrael received the Torah? That’s not extraordinary? But no, אלוש and מדבר סיני are mentioned by name alone, no comment about what happened there, but אלים and רפידים merit special comment. What is this seeming “obsession” with water in our parsha?
Before we begin to answer the above questions, I would like to add one more.
When Moshe first approached Pharaoh to free Am Yisrael, HKB”H did not instruct Moshe to request that Pharaoh set Am Yisrael free permanently. Moshe asked him to allow Am Yisrael to have a three day vacation so that they could ויחגו לי במדבר (שמות ה, א). Later when Am Yisrael asked the Egyptians to “lend” them their valuables, the premise was the same – that they would be gone for three days and then return. The word used is וַיַּשְׁאִלוּם. Why the deception? Why didn’t Moshe come straight out with it and tell Pharaoh – “We are going free, forever! And if you try stop us, then מכת בכורות will seem like child’s play!" Why didn’t Am Yisrael tell the Egyptians “This gold bracelet, kiss it goodbye, you will never see it again!” Why all the deception?
Why indeed? Later in history it came back to haunt us. In the Gemara (סנהדרין צא, א) it describes an episode that occurred in the time of Alexander the Great. Egypt came to the “international court” in Macedonia (not the Hague) and submitted a lawsuit against Am Yisrael regarding this very thing. “You said that you were only going to borrow all that gold.” “You said only three days!” “You are thieves!” and they presented a bill, with compound interest. The חכמים were not sure how to deal with this. One man, Gevihah ben Pesisah said “Let me respond.” Gevihah was not known as a great talmid chacham, but he said “Let me respond and if I fail you can say, ‘Gevihah is a simpleton’ and then send the big-gun lawyers to deal with it”. Gevihah appeared before the high court and presented a bill of his own, saying “There were 600,000 men over age 20 who left Egypt, but in Egypt before מכת חושך there were 5 times that amount – around 3 million men. Add to that around 3 million women as well. What is the minimum wage per month? 5,000 shekels? For 210 years. Here is a bill for ….. 76 billion shekels! (about 1000 more than the Egyptians’ bill). When the Egyptians saw this, they said “Let’s run away quick before Alexander sees this and makes us pay!”
But the question remains ….. why the deception in the first place?
Now we can begin the shiur!
Before יציאת מצרים Am Yisrael were slaves. Those born into slavery had never seen a shekel coin in their lives. They were lucky if they got a cup of water to drink or a bowl of gruel to eat at the end of the day. Money? What is money? HKB”H promised Avraham Avinu in ברית בין הבתרים that Am Yisrael would leave Egypt ברכוש גדול, but it was more than that, He wanted to instill in Am Yisrael a “lust for money” תאוות הכסף! A slave has no lust for money. If you tell a slave “Stay one more week and I will pay you $1000” the slave will respond “No thanks, I prefer to go free now!”
Am Yisrael, as slaves in Egypt, had no תאווה לכסף – they had no concept of money at all. HKB”H had to beg them to take the Egyptians’ money, דבר נא. But it was deeper than that. Am Yisrael despised the Egyptians’ money “That רשע took my 6-year-old Shlomo and killed him, cemented him into the foundation of the building! And you want me to take his money???! I want nothing to do with him or his money!”
HKB”H was intent however on arousing a lust for money in Am Yisrael, He just had to get them to take the first step. He had to beg them to take it and they reluctantly did. 90 Libyan donkeys (who can carry double the load of a normal donkey) per person, each carrying around 100kg, that makes about 9000kg of loot – per person! Each family comprised the two parents and around 100 kids (each woman in Egypt gave birth to sextuplets each time). That is about 1 MILLION kg of loot per family!
We tend to romanticize יציאת מצרים and conjure up in our heads how Am Yisrael looked when they trooped out of Egypt. It is important to understand the actual reality and picture how it truly looked, as Chazal tell us. The way it truly looked is that there were more donkeys than people leaving Egypt – 90 donkeys to each person, all laden to the hilt with MONEY! Donkeys are not know as cooperative animals. Imagine how it must have been for each person to manage 90 donkeys and keep them from wandering off!
Am Yisrael received their first taste for money and it was Baruch Hashem a WHOPPING first taste! Shlomo Hamelech says אֹהֵב כֶּסֶף לֹא יִשְׂבַּע כֶּסֶף (קהלת ה, ט) or as the Midrash puts it מי שיש לו מנה, רוצה מאתיים (קהלת רבה, א, לד). The lust for money is like an addiction. Just like a drug addict who first injects himself with a drug, gets a taste for it - will never be able to get enough of it.
HKB”H wanted to test if that first taste for money had the required effect in Am Yisrael, so He planted the notion in Pharaoh’s head to load all his chariots full of gold and treasures, before they pursued Am Yisrael into the Red Sea. After they drowned, all the money floated up, like an endless autoteller machine coughing up gold bars. And what did Am Yisrael do? They crazily busied themselves loading another layer of “goodies” onto the poor donkeys and another and another! Until Moshe had to force them to stop and move on. HKB”H said, OK, the “motor is working”, now let them move on!
The question is “Why would HKB”H want to instill a lust for money in Am Yisrael? A lust for MONEY????!”
תאוות הכסף is one of the most powerful prime motivators in human nature. Even billionaires, who could easily retire at age 45 and spend their days living it up and taking it easy, in most cases you will find them still working furiously to make more billions and more billions …. אֹהֵב כֶּסֶף לֹא יִשְׂבַּע כֶּסֶף. It is an addiction, they cannot help it!
HaRav Baruch Rosenblum שליט"א says that HKB”H wanted to instill such a mechanism in Am Yisrael that they would then re-channel to studying Torah. As Shlomo Hamelech says –
אם תבקשנה ככסף וכמטמונים תחפשנה. אז תבין יראת ה' ודעת א-לקים תמצא. (משלי ב, ד-ה)
Am Yisrael were slaves in Egypt, they had no תאוות. How could HKB”H give the Torah to people without the lust to learn more and understand HKB”H’s mindset? He had to first instill the lust of money, the most powerful motivator, in them first, so they could understand what it means to lust for Torah!
The Torah is compared to water –
מה מים, מסוף העולם ועד סופו כך תורה, מסוף העולם ועד סופו. מה מים חיים לעולם ,כך תורה חיים לעולם. מה מים מן השמים, כך התורה מן השמים. מה המים מטהרים הגוף, כך תורה מטהרת הגוף וכו'. (שיר השירים רבה א, יט).
After ים סוף the mechanism was working well, too well in fact. Moshe had to forcibly stop Am Yisrael from overloading their donkeys. HKB”H said “OK, it’s now time for the next lesson” and He led them three days in the desert without water. Chazal say that they were so preoccupied with the loot that they had acquired, that they neglected to study Torah.
Hashem brings them to מרה. In מרה the water was bitter. HKB”H says “You see, money on its own, without Torah, is like water that is bitter, you cannot drink it.” HKB”H instructed Moshe to throw an עץ, a wooden stick with Hashem’s name inscribed on it, representing עץ החיים, the Torah, into the water which sweetened it and made it drinkable. In מרה HKB”H started teaching us the Torah, even before מתן תורה. According to Chazal in מרה we received the הלכות of כיבוד אב ואם, שבת, ועבד עברי. HKB”H tells Am Yisrael “I want you to take this same lust you had for money and channel it into a lust for the Torah!” After this episode, the זקנים in Am Yisrael instituted that Am Yisrael would never again go three days without Torah. This is why we read the Torah on Shabbat, Mondays and Thursdays, so that three days will never go by without Torah! In addition, in מרה HKB”H subjected Am Yisrael to the test of the סוטה with the bitter water, to clear them from any suspicion of עריות in Egypt (זהר, פרשת נשא, קכד, ע"ב) and they came out clean, with HKB”H’s stamp of approval חנוך משפחת החנכי לפלוא משפחת הפלאי etc. the addition of the letters yud and heh at the end and beginning of each name – the name of HKB”H י-ה.
Then HKB”H says “I think they have learned the lesson” and he brings Am Yisrael to אלים. In אלים there are 12 water springs and 70 date palms that Chazal say were created in the 6 days of creation for this moment, the 12 springs representing the Twelve Tribes studying Torah and the 70 palms representing the שבעים זקנים who were all Tzaddikim צדיק כתמר יפרח. Am Yisrael were almost ready to receive the Torah, but they needed one more lesson.
In רפידים again Am Yisrael lapsed and neglected to study the Torah, the word רפידים comes from the root רפוי meaning lax. HKB”H needed to show Am Yisrael not only the positive aspects of studying the Torah, as He did in מרה, but also the negative consequences if they failed to do so, so He brought Amalek upon them. Amalek is the “nu nu!” for Am Yisrael when they stray from the path, like in Purim (which we will be celebrating in a month or two), when they attended Achashveirosh’s banquet and sinned, Hashem unleashed Amalek on them (Haman).
Now the lesson was complete and they could receive the Torah on Har Sinai.
So it was really not about money or water at all, it was all a preparatory process for receiving the Torah. This is why special mention is given in מסעי to these places.
Why the deception in Egypt? Why say “three days” when you really mean forever? Why say “lend” when you really mean give?
The Vilna Gaon says that this was מידה כנגד מידה for Pharaoh and Egypt who also deceived Am Yisrael. The process of enslaving Am Yisrael in the first place was one huge deception. When it says עבודת פרך, Chazal say it means פה רך. To begin with Am Yisrael were not subjected to slave labor. Pharaoh declared a “national building project” in Pithom and Raamses. On the first day Pharaoh himself dressed in working clothes and laid bricks. He offered Am Yisrael 100 dinar for every brick they laid. “Pharaoh is giving away money” everyone said (except Shevet Levi). They worked with all their hearts to make as much money as they could and the Egyptians kept a record of how many bricks they each laid on the first day and paid them accordingly. On the second day, the Egyptian police surrounded them and said “OK, today you are going to lay the same number of bricks or you will be whipped”. It was all deception.
Moshe could have told Pharaoh that they were leaving forever and handed him a bill for expenses incurred and if he had done so, after מכת בכורות, Pharaoh would have set them free, made a public collection and coughed up the cash. Pharaoh and the Egyptians would have waved goodbye and good riddance to Am Yisrael and vise versa and that would have been the end of it.
But HKB”H could not allow that to be the end of it. The Egyptians needed to chase after them.
When HKB”H revealed to Avraham that Am Yisrael would be slaves in Egypt it is written ועבדום וענו אתם ארבע מאות שנה but no mention is made of the Egyptians killing Am Yisrael. That was Pharaoh’s own initiative, to drown the firstborns in the Nile and to instruct the midwives to strangle the newborns before they gave their first cry. It was the Egyptians’ own initiative to cement children into the foundations of the building, nobody told them to do that. HKB”H decreed that Am Yisrael would be enslaved, not killed.
Only if Pharaoh would see that it was not three days at all, but forever! only if the Egyptians would see that the money had not been “lent” for three days but that Am Yisrael intended to abscond with it for good, would they chase after them.
They needed to chase after them so that they could drown in ים סוף - מידה כנגד מידה for Pharaoh drowning the firstborns and for the Egyptians burying the children in the foundations. It had to be מידה כנגד מידה. This is what convinced Yitro to מתגייר. Yitro knew every type of avodah zarah, backwards, forwards and sideways, but only when he saw HKB”H’s מידה כנגד מידה on the Red Sea, did he finally admit that this was the only true faith.
This is why the deception was necessary – on the level of the פשט. But it goes deeper than that. In many of my shiurim, I have brought (from my sefer מאיר פנים) how יציאת מצרים was a necessary stage in repairing the damage done by the נחש in the sin of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden.
We have already learnt in a previous shiur that Pharaoh was in fact the נחש. Pharaoh needed to be deceived because it was מידה כנגד מידה against the נחש for deceiving Chava הנחש השיאני ואכל. Am Yisrael needed to leave Egypt with 90 Libyan donkeys laden with loot and accumulate even more at ים סוף because that was also מידה כנגד מידה for the fact that Adam Harishon was deprived of his source of פרנסה. Until the sin of the עץ הדעת - making and eating a chametz bread from the fruit of the tree חמשת מיני דגן, ground, mixed with water and left to become lax and ferment – Adam had no conception of money, his parnasa was automatic, without effort. After the sin, he was doomed to בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם – he had his parnasa taken away, his MONEY! Adam now acquired תאוות הכסף. The sin involved water, used to mix the chametz bread. Already in Gan Eden it was preordained that there would be קריעת ים סוף. The rashei teivot of the passuk ואד יעלה מן הארץ והשקה את כל פני האדמה (בראשית ב, ו) are - וים הוא כפה. The Egyptians were mixed in ים סוף like someone mixing dough with water to atone for the water’s part in the sin of the עץ הדעת. Am Yisrael were tested at מרה like a סוטה, to clear Chava of suspicion of עריות with the נחש. And what was the purpose of all this? To return the world to its original state before the sin, where the only tree allowed was the עץ החיים, the Torah. Adam and his descendants had to convert their newly acquired lust for money into a lust for the Torah.
The Shulchan Lechem Hapanim is all about MONEY! It is the primary vessel in the Beit Hamikdash responsible for distributing HKB”H’s שפע עליון, parnasa, throughout the world. When I invite people to a lecture on “The Secret to Wealth from Solomon’s Temple”, (King Solomon’s sage advice how to successfully make money and become wealthy), they are initially disappointed that the lecture does not include insider tips about which stock to invest in. However as they reach the latter part of the lecture and begin to understand what true wealth really is, they see that actual money, dollars and euros, is an integral part of the big picture that is “wealth”, that a component of true wealth is also greenbacks – but coupled with values, and it is the values that facilitate the greenbacks.
This is the purpose of the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim in the Mikdash - to teach Am Yisrael how vital the prime motivator, the lust for money, is, but also to show how this must be balanced by values of the Torah – and that is the true wealth.
Beit Garmu were in charge of baking the Lechem Hapanim in the Beit Hamikdash. Their work was flawless and they were זוכה to a miracle that there was never a פסול in the Lechem Hapanim. To merit such a miracle in their labor of love, they could not have been regular, ordinary people. They were Tzaddikim of the greatest stature and they were given a gift from birth by HKB”H to merit such a miracle. The Gemara in Yoma gives us a hint to the degree of their tzidkut, how makpid they were in מראית עין, that they would never eat bread in their own home made from סולת so that nobody would suspect them of improperly using public funds for their own private use.
To even contemplate that they would extort the חכמים to double their salary, simply to satisfy a lust for money is unthinkable. Money however features prominently in the סוגיא in the Gemara, with a debate how much they actually earned before and after this episode and it is an astronomical sum by all standards, all from public funds. So how does this correlate?
The same way it does with the Kohen Gadol.
Just like the Kohen Gadol must be enormously wealthy and if he is not, his fellow Kohanim make him so by giving him money, so must all appointees in the Mikdash be wealthy, because אין עניות במקום עשירות. Just like a בעל מום cannot bring a korban, similarly you cannot have someone bake the very bread that symbolizes wealth and שפע, if they themselves are not wealthy. But it must be a wealth befitting the Lechem Hapanim, not simply a lust for money, but a true understanding of wealth and how to balance it with the Torah.
Beit Garmu knew that, they embodied it. That is why they were זוכה for the miracle. Unlike what the Midrash says in Kohelet - מי שיש לו מנה, רוצה מאתיים, Beit Garmu were satisfied with their original salary, it was befitting their stature and broadcast the correct message to Am Yisrael. They were fanatic about not even using one grain of flour extra from public funds for their personal use.
If the episode with חכמים had never occurred they would have continued to earn that original salary, unquestioningly. However, the חכמים upset the balance. They cast unjustified aspersions on Beit Garmu, bringing into question their very character. To restore the balance it was necessary for all of Am Yisrael to clearly see that their character was impeccable. They could not return to work for their original salary, they needed a message to be broadcast that the חכמים had made an error in doubting them, which the חכמים themselves admitted. The חכמים themselves had no qualms to double the salary, because they too believed it was necessary to prevent future incidents such as this.
The fact that the Gemara concludes the סוגיא by determining that the “first” ones (Beit Garmu and Beit Avtinas) were זכר צדיק לברכה – that they were truly Tzaddikim, puts the final stamp of approval on the incident and absolves Beit Garmu from any doubt.
So the answer to the original question with which we began the shiur is – I think that Beit Garmu did not return the money, they accepted the raise in salary, not because of a lust for money, but למען יראו וייראו.