B’tzeis Yisrael miMitzrayim, Beis Yaakov mei’am lo’eiz.
When klal Yisrael [the men] left from the land of Mitzrayim, (and) Beis Yaakov [the women] left from a people of a foreign language (that they did not understand)
Whereas the first three segments of Tefilah Focus on Hallel covered the first perek of Hallel (chapter 113 of T’hilim), we now move to the second perek of Hallel (chapter 114 of T’hilim). In the first perek, we praise Hashem by acknowledging His hashgachah pratis in every aspect of our daily lives. We highlight this by contrasting the other nations, who may believe that G-d created the world, but do not believe that He continues to be involved, and certainly not in each of our daily personal lives on an ongoing, constant basis.
The second perek now moves to Hashem’s ability to overturn nature through miraculous events. In this perek, we focus on Hashem taking us out of Mitzrayim and the miracles He performed for us.
When we look at the first pasuk, we notice that the first clause seems to be saying the same thing as the second clause but using different wording. The first clause mentions Yisrael, while the second clause uses Beis Yaakov. And while the first clause refers to leaving Mitzrayim, the second clause specifies mei’am lo’eiz – from a people of a foreign language.
One understanding is that “Yisrael” refers to the men, while “Beis Yaakov” refers to the women. The men had to converse with the Egyptians, so they had to speak their language. However, the women generally stayed at home and therefore did not know the language. To them, it was a foreign language. Hence, the second clause is saying that Hashem took the women out of a nation with a foreign language that they did not understand. [Pathway to Prayer Siddur, quoting Rabbi Yosef Ibn Yachya, 16th century Portuguese commentator]
The Midrash Rabbah, the Radak, and the Chasam Sofer all explain that, in fact, the men, as well, only spoke lashon kodesh [the holy Hebrew language] among themselves and did not change their internal language. This was one of the merits that ultimately caused them to be redeemed.
Another beautiful explanation of the two clauses in the pasuk, along with a powerful lesson, appears in Rabbi Yonah Weinrib’s The Illuminated Hallel, based on the Aish Dos Haggadah. We present an excerpt below:
“The spiritually exalted term “Yisrael” represents men of stature who recognized that the purpose of redemption was not merely a release from physical servitude. In order for Yisrael to be truly free, it had to rid itself of any of the vestiges of impurity that it absorbed from the morally corrupt Egyptian society. Their pervasive influences would become part of the national character of the Jews had they remained in Egypt any longer. Ridding themselves of the taskmaster’s dominance without divorcing themselves of the host culture’s negative traits would make the Jew physically free, but a spiritual captive. Beis Yaakov, the House of Jacob, refers to the less spiritually advanced [men and women], whose rejoicing was for the freedom from slavery alone. [Aish Dos, Haggadah]”
While we remain grateful for the freedom and kindness we have been shown, we must, at the same time, strive to reach the higher level of “Yisrael” and not allow the decadent and immoral culture that surrounds us to be absorbed by us or by our children. The world around us continues to sink to lower and lower levels and justifies it all. We must remember and inculcate in ourselves and in our future generations that we look to the Torah for our values and not to the society around us.
We pray for and anxiously await our final redemption. Let it be from a “foreign” society and not just a physical redemption.
To access print versions of previous Tefilah segments, please visit OU Torah’s Search portal, select the Topic of “Tefillah,” and then select “Weekly Tefilah Focus” from the Series list.
For Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman’s video and audio shiurim, which are based on our Tefilah Focus segments but also include his insightful and inspiring additions, please visit TorahAnytime.com or simply search for “TorahAnytime Rabbi Finkelman.”
You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.