SALT - Sunday, 20 Tammuz 5780 - July 12, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather 
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
22 Tamuz, July 14.

The Torah in the beginning of Parashat Masei traces the geography of Benei Yisrael’s journey through the desert, listing all the forty-two stations where they encamped along their route from Egypt to their final encampment on the eastern banks of the Jordan River.  One of the first stops listed is Ba’al Tzefon (33:7), referring to the time when, just days after the Exodus, God had Benei Yisrael retreat and change direction, and head towards the Sea of Reeds, after encamping near Ba’al Tzefon
Rashi, in Sefer Shemot (14:2), writes (citing the Mekhilta) that Ba’al Tzefon was one of the Egyptian idols, and the only of the idols to have survived the night of the Exodus.  As we read here in Parashat Masei (33:4), God “brought judgments” upon all the Egyptian dieties, referring to the supernatural destruction of the statues (see Rashi to Shemot 12:12).  God spared only one idol – Ba’al Tzefon – and then had Benei Yisrael retreat and encamp near this idol after leaving Egypt.  Rashi explains that this was done to mislead to Pharaoh to assume that God could not overpower Ba’al Tzefon, and he would then delude himself into thinking that he could defeat God and bring Benei Yisrael back to Egypt.  And so Pharaoh mobilized an army and pursued Benei Yisrael – and the Egyptian army was then drowned at sea.
Rav Yisrael of Modhitz, in Divrei Yisrael (here in Parashat Matot), offers an explanation for why specifically Ba’al Tzefon was chosen from among all the Egyptian statues as the one that God spared.  He cites the theory developed by Keli Yakar (Shemot 14:2), establishing that Ba’al Tzefon was Egypt’s god of wealth.  Hence, the Rebbe of Modzitz writes, the survival of Ba’al Tzefon symbolizes the future “survival” of one pagan god – the god of wealth.  Rav Elimelekh of Lizhensk, in Noam Elimelekh, shows how money is a modern-day “deity,” something which many regard as a “supreme power” of sorts, as the ultimate source of authority and blessing.  When paganism declined, and the world ceased believing in the power of idols and statues, the worship of wealth remained.  God set this precedent already at the time of the Exodus, when He destroyed all the Egyptian idols except one, the god of wealth, as if to warn us that even when the foolish worship of idols would all but disappear from the world, the equally foolish worship of wealth, the belief in wealth as the supreme force and the ultimate purpose of life, will remain.