“If Pharoah had known that they were departing forever, he would have agreed for them to leave”
Secrets of the Torah with Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita (transcribed and translated from a shiur given by Rav Berland.)
The sea also split for Datan and Aviram
When the Children of Israel left Mitzrayim, Datan and Aviram didn’t walk behind Moshe Rabbenu. The sea split for them a second time, in their own merit. The wellsprings of Torah ask a question in Parshat Beshalach on the verse: “The water was like a wall for them on their right and on their left”: How was it that Datan and Aviram didn’t die in the plague of darkness?
The Midrash says of Datan and Aviram that no-one told them that they were leaving Mitzrayim, or going to Eretz Yisrael, no-one told them this secret, and they thought that they were just going to Mount Horeb, and then returning back. And they said that going to Mount Horeb and back wasn’t worth all the effort for them.
No-one told them that they were leaving completely. If they’d have been told that they were going for good, and not coming back, then they would have left.
Datan and Aviram told Pharoah everything
Why weren’t they told? Because every little thing they heard they passed on to Pharoah. If Pharoah would have been told that the Children of Israel had no intention of returning, he wouldn’t have chased after them, and then the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds) wouldn’t have split.
If Pharoah would have known that they were leaving forever, he would have agreed for them to leave completely. But, instead he was told: “[We will go] for three days journey into the desert.” They didn’t tell him that they weren’t coming back.
Moshe didn’t lie
Moshe didn’t lie to Pharoah. He said: “[We will go] for three days journey into the desert, to sacrifice to Hashem, our God.” Pharoah understood that they would return. And Moshe requested that Pharoah should give them three days, but he didn’t say that they were going to come back after those three days.
Pharoah simply inferred that they were going for three days now, and that they would return afterwards. Hashem only said three days, Moshe only said three days, so Datan and Aviram thought that they were only going to Mount Horeb, for the giving of the Torah, and this wasn’t worthwhile for them.
“So, the Torah will be given…we could also experience the giving of the Torah in Egypt, we could have matan Torah in Egypt too!”
Listening to a recording isn’t the same as seeing a Tzaddik with your own eyes
A person listens to a tape, or a recording [of the Tzaddik speaking], but the ikker, the essence is to see the movements the Tzaddik makes. The ikker is these movements, which speak volumes. A person listens to a recording, he can also listen to the recording while still under his duvet.
[Datan and Aviram] said: “we’ll listen to matan Torah in Egypt. We’ll hear it, there’s going to be sounds that will travel from one end of the world to the other, and it’ll be [translated] into all 70 languages, so we’ll also hear it.”
Datan and Aviram didn’t want to leave Egypt
So Datan and Aviram really didn’t want to leave Mitzrayim. Suddenly, they hear that everyone’s going to Eretz Yisrael. [Pharoah sent spies to accompany the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and] Pharoah’s messengers came back with the message that the Children of Israel don’t intend to come back. So they started running.
They already saw that the sea had split, that there was no sea, and that the sea has already covered over the Egyptians. So it’s written a second time: “the sea was like a wall for them on the right and on the left.” So, when did they develop the emuna to believe in Moshe Rabbenu? Because the people who left Mitzrayim, they didn’t do that because they believed he was the Tzaddik of the generation.
“How is Moshe different from Bilaam?!”
They just believed that he was a good leader, and they believed that he knew how to make use of [Hashem’s] holy names, and that he knew how to bring down the plague of wild animals, and the plague of the death of the firstborn, by using these names. It really could be that [Moshe] knew how to curse, but Bilaam also knew how to do this.
As Balak said, “If you bless they will be blessed, and if you curse they will be cursed.” Bilaam also knew how to curse. If Bilaam cursed someone, then they’d die. So who says that [Moshe] was better than Bilaam?!
Bilaam was Lavan’s relative
It’s written in the Midrash HaGadol that Bilaam was certain that when they left Mitzrayim that they would call him. Bilaam was sure that if Israel left Mitzrayim that they would call him. [In the Midrash there were different opinions.] One said that [Bilaam] was Lavan himself. The Ari said that Bilaam was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Lavan.
Another one said that he was the son of Lavan. Yet another one said that he was his grandson. So if he was the son of Lavan, that would mean that he was the brother of Rachel and Leah. And if he was the grandson of Lavan, then that made him the nephew of Rachel and Leah.
Thus, he was around 400 years old now, so it was fitting to call him (to get the Children of Israel out of Mitzrayim), instead of some youngster, aged 80 years old, they should have called Bilaam. So Bilaam said: (Tehillim 112):
“The wicked man will see this and be angered. He will gnash his teeth and melt away.”
Bilaam wanted to take revenge against Moshe Rabbenu
[Bilaam] said, “I’m going to take vengeance against Moshe Rabbenu for this. I’m not going to forgive Moshe Rabbenu, that he was so brazen to take my place. What, Moshe Rabbenu, that small kid aged 80…he’s 300 years’ younger than me! What, he should take my place?!”
So the Midrash says: “The wicked man will see this and gnash his teeth and melt away. The desires of the wicked will be lost.”
In the end, after 40 years we see his end [that he was killed, according to the Midrash, but] this isn’t what we’re told [in the Gemara] that: “The people of bloodshed and deceit, won’t live out half their days.” This was also said about Bilaam. In Sanhedrin it’s written that he was only 33 years old.
But there’s a midrash that he was the son or grandson of Lavan, so he’d already lived for 400 years, and he said he was going to take vengeance against Moshe Rabbenu, for taking his place. “He should have called me! He should have behaved with proper decorum (derech Eretz). Here’s an older man, the nephew of Rachel and Leah, and everyone knows what is written, that: ‘If you bless, they will be blessed, and if you curse, they will be cursed.’”
The Children of Israel didn’t think Moshe was the Tzaddik of the generation
So, those people who went out with Moshe Rabbenu, they didn’t really believe that he was the Tzaddik of the generation. They thought that he had some sort of power to curse, and some sort of power to bless, but that Bilaam also had the power to curse and to bless. So what’s the difference between Moshe and Bilaam?!
We still haven’t seen the difference between Moshe and Bilaam. Bilaam also curses, Bilaam also blesses, and he also curses and blesses.
Just because a person’s blessings materialize, maybe he’s still just a ‘Bilaam’? Who says that he’s a Tzaddik. It could be that some Arab once gave someone a blessing, and his blessing worked. That still doesn’t mean that he’s a Tzaddik.
So the fact that they were following after Moshe Rabbenu, this still didn’t mean that they believed in him, that they thought that he was the Tzaddik of the generation, or the shaliach (messenger) of Hashem.
Rather, they thought he was a good leader, and that he could give blessings. But who says that he could rectify souls? That he could rectify back to the soul-root?
You can toil for 120 years, and still not achieve your spiritual rectification
After all, a person could be a tzaddik, and could give blessings, but we’re talking about a Tzaddik who can connect you back to the root of your soul in shemayim (heaven)!!
The Zohar says on the first page of ‘Pinchas’ that a person can toil for 120 years, but still not achieve his rectification. So a person can give blessings, but his ability to bless doesn’t mean that he’s the Tzaddik of the generation. Rather, it means that his blessings ‘work’ because he gives a blessing at a time of favor, at an ‘et ratzon’.
There’s many different reasons why a person’s blessings can work, even if he’s not the Tzaddik of the generation.
Translated from the ‘Kvavat Shomrem’ newsletter.