SALT - Tuesday, 9 Shevat 5776 - January 19, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Beshalach of the miracle of the splitting of the sea, in anticipation of which Moshe reassured Benei Yisrael that they would never again see the Egyptians  who were pursuing them (14:13). 

Somewhat ironically, the Torah tells that after Benei Yisrael crossed the sea and the waters then crashed down upon and drowned the Egyptian horsemen, they “saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (14:30).  Moshe had assured them that they would never see the Egyptians again – yet they did, after the Egyptians died.

Rav Dov Ber Treivish, in his Revid Ha-zahav, suggested that these verses may perhaps be relevant for a practical halakhic question.  If a person vows not to look upon a certain individual ever again – for example, he became very angry at that person – may he look upon that person after his death?  This question might arise in cases where the person who took the vow is needed to identify a corpse so that his wife can remarry and his children can divide the estate.  At first glance, we might assume that once a person vowed not to look upon his fellow ever again, he may not look upon him even after he dies.  In light of these verses in Parashat Beshalach, however, we might reach a different conclusion.  Moshe – presumably, on the basis of prophecy – assured Benei Yisrael they would never again see the Egyptians, and it turned out that this meant only that they would not see the Egyptians alive.  By the same token, perhaps, one who vows not to look at another person may look at his remains after his passing.

One may, however, refute this proof in light of the Targum Yerushalmi, which translates Moshe’s promise to means that Benei Yisrael would never again see the Egyptians “be-shibud” – in a state of subjugation.  According to this translation, Moshe did not say that Benei Yisrael would never again have to lay their eyes on the Egyptians, but rather that they would never again see them as their enslavers.  (The basis for this translation is likely the word “ka’asher” in this verse, which implies that Benei Yisrael would never see the Egyptians in the same fashion as they had seen them previously.)  As such, we cannot draw any conclusions from this pair of verses to cases where a person takes a vow not to ever again look at another person.

(See Rav Chaim Leib Eisenstein’s Peninim Mi-bei Midresha, Parashat Beshalach)