Vaera: Down by the River ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

Before bringing the Plague of Blood, G-d tells Aharon to stretch out his staff over the different bodies of water in Egypt. He tells Aharon, inter alia, to put his hand over the naharot and yeorim of Egypt. Rashi (to Ex. 7:19) explains that nahar refers to the type of river with which we are familiar, and yeor refers to a man-made irrigation canal that brings water to faraway fields. This implies that a yeor is a man-made river, while a nahar is a naturally-occurring river. However, this assumption is belied by the fact that the Nile River is a called a yeor, yet the Nile River is one of the four original rivers that flowed from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:11), and cannot possibly be a man-made river! So what’s going on here? What is a yeor and what is a nahar? And, for that matter, where does the word nachal (which also means “river”) fit into all of this?

In order to resolve this contradiction in terms, Rabbi Malkiel Tzvi Tannenbaum of Lomzha (1847-1910), author of the responsa Divrei Malkiel, proposes that the words nahar and yeor can be used in two different ways. When the words nahar oryeor appear on their own, both terms can mean both a man-made river and a natural river. However, if both terms are used together, then each term assumes one specific meaning that is not included in the other. In other words, whenever nahar and yeor appear side-by-side (like they do concerning the plague of blood), then nahar only refers to a natural river and yeor only refers to an artificial river. But when the terms appear independently, they are both synonyms for any type of river.

The Malbim (to Jer. 46:10) explains that a yeor is a river which tends to overflow, thus allowing water to flood the surrounding area. A nahar and nachal, on the other hand, are rivers which do not overflow, but simply push all its waters along a certain forward current, but not past its river banks.

In another discussion of these three terms, the Malbim (to Isa. 19:5) explains that a nahar is a river that is shallow, short, and narrow, while anachal is a wider river, but it too is not deep. A yeor denotes an even smaller stream. In this discussion, Malbim again notes that a yeor differs from the other two types of rivers in that a yeor tends to overflow, while the other types of rivers do not. We will explain the etymological basis for this soon. Most instances of yeor in the Bible refer specifically to the Nile River in Egypt, which acted like this, although Malbim concedes that in two or three places the term yeor refers to a different river.

The word nachal refers to both a “river” and a “valley”. Some explain the connection between these two meanings is that a nachal is the type of river that causes erosion, which thereby creates a valley a la the Grand Canyon. In English, we call this a wadi (a word borrowed from Arabic). Others explain that a nachal is a seasonal river caused by rainwater flowing down from the mountains, while a nahar is a river which continues to flow the entire year.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1714-1814) explains in his work Cheshek Shlomo that the two-letter root HEY-REISH is used in different words that refer to something which “sticks out”. For example, har is a “mountain”, herayon is “pregnancy”, and yuharah is “haughtiness”. Based on this, he explains that the word nahar is also derived from this root, as a nahar is the type of river into which smaller streams flow, making the bigger river “stick out” vis-à-vis those tributaries.

Rabbi Pappenheim also writes in Cheshek Shlomo that the letter REISH itself denotes “throwing” or “shooting”, and different roots that use the letter REISH are derived from that. To that effect, he understands that the word yeor is derived from the letter REISH. The waters of a yeor shoot downstream as though being “thrown” by the forces of nature. Rabbi Pappenheim explains that yeor differs from nahar in that it refers to a river whose waters flow with especially violent force, and in the Bible it is only used to refer to the Nile and the Tigris rivers. However, Rabbi Pappenheim admits that a borrowed meaning of yeor — which also appears in the Bible — is a manmade irrigation duct, which does not actually refer to a river per se but to its artificial tributaries. In light of what the Malbim wrote, we can explain that the word yeor recalls the fact that its waters tend to overflow past the river’s banks — giving the illusion of the river itself “shooting” its waters outwards.

Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) explains that the term nachal only applies to a river which flows into a sea, as it says, “All the nechalim go to the sea” (Ecc. 1:7), but not to any type of river. Indeed, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim in Yeriot Shlomo explains that the root of the word nachal is CHET-LAMMED, which refers to “circular motion” and aptly describes the cycle by which a nachal empties out into the ocean, and the waters of the ocean, in turn, flow back into the river.

Va’era: How Do We Give Kavod To Hashem ~ Tzvi Abrahams


How Do We Give Kavodto Hashem?

כָּבֵד: heavy

כָּבֵד: liver

כָּבוֹד: honor

לְכַבֵּד: to clean or sweep the house

יוֹכֶבֶד: Moshe’s mother

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’אֶל מֹשֶׁה כָּבֵד לֵב פַּרְעֹה מֵאֵן לְשַׁלַּח הָעָם
And Hashem said to Moshe, “The heart of Pharaoh is heavy/hard to send the people.”1

כָּבֵד: Heavy

Theכָּבֵדis the heaviest organ of the body in that it holds a lot of blood. Therefore, when something weighs heavy on our minds, we say in Hebrew that it is כָּבֵד. The Talmud says that anger is seated in the liver.2When someone becomes angry, his temperature rises, causing him to overheat; he is characterized as being hot-blooded. Since anger is seated in the liver, the heat so to speak cooks the liver. The more one becomes angry, the more the liver overcooks, making it hard. See also the Midrash where the Ein Yosef explains that the כָּבֵד/liver is different from all other types of meat in that other types of meat when cooked become soft, whereas the כָּבֵדbecomes hard.3

Moshe’s command to “let my people go” did not sit well with Pharaoh; it made his blood boil. Being that he was the god of Egypt, any outside force was a threat to his supreme power. How to deal with this problem laid heavily on his heart, making it hard; in effect, Pharaoh’s heart became more like his liver, hence כָּבֵד לֵב פַּרְעֹה.

כָּבֵד: Liver

The function of the כָּבֵדis to cleanse the blood of all its toxins.

כָּבוֹד: Honor

Everything that Hashem created in His world was only created for His כָּבוֹד.4

How do we give kavodto Hashem? The answer is in the word itself. Just like the job of thekavedis to clean the body, so too we give kavodto Hashem by purifying ourselves of all the tumahfrom within us. 

Kavedcan also be translated as yakar/cherished, meaning that the heavier the task, the more cherished it becomes. For example, the boxer who steps into the ring and clobbers a lightweight cannot compare his feeling of victory to when he defeats a heavyweight champion. So too the complexity of life is veryקַשֶׁה/hard. Hashem designed it that way so that we would feel the great sense of satisfaction by battling life’s heavyweights — namely the yetzer hara, who at the end of it all will appear like a huge mountain. 

Whether we knock out the heavyweight champion of the world or climb Mount Everest, the sense of achievement is immense and יָקָר בְּעֵינֵי ה’/cherished in the eyes of Hashem. 

לְכַבֵּד: To Clean or Sweep the House

When one is מְכַבֵד הַבַּיִת/sweeping the house, one is also cleaning it.5By cleansing the house, one is showing that one really cares about it — giving כָּבוֹדto the house.

The opposite is true regarding someone who lets his house or even his appearance go. It means that he doesn’t care about the house or himself.

יוֹכֶבֶד: Moshe’s mother

It’s not just stam/happenstance that Moshe Rabeinu’s mother was called Yocheved. Yocheved was the one who gave birth to the redeemer who redeemed us from Egypt, the immoral capital of the world. Yocheved therefore initiated the cleansing process that took us out from the depths of the filthiest place on earth to the point where we reached the forty-ninth level of purity, pure enough to receive the Torah on Har Sinai. 

The Midrash also shines light on the name יוֹכֶבֶד, for her face was similar to the זִיו הַכָּבוֹד/the Radiance of Glory.6

My wife, who is called יוֹכֶבֶד, has a radiant smile and just so happens to make excellent chopped liver. She is also obsessed about sweeping the house. It all makes perfect sense!

1Shemos 7:14.


3Shemos Rabbah9:8, 13:3.



6Midrash HaGadolBereishis 23:1.

Vaera: Just Because ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein


Just Because

Before the Plague of Hail, Moshe warns the Pharaoh that he truly deserves to be killed, but that G-d had said, “nonetheless, because (baavur) of this, I let you endure: in order to show you My strength and so that My name may be spoken throughout the world” (Exodus 9:16). The word for “because” used in this context is baavur. However, there are two more words in Hebrew which mean “because”—biglal and bishvil—so why does the Torah specifically use the word baavur here and not one of the other two? What’s the difference between these three words?

The word “because” in English has two very distinct meanings. Consider the following two sentences: “I will visit my parents because I love them” and “I will visit my parents because I want to forge a better relationship with them”. Both of these sentences use the word “because” when introducing the reason for why I will visit my parents, but the interplay between the reason and the visit are different: In the first sentence, “because” refers to a pre-existing factor in why I want to visit my parents, while in the second sentence, the word “because” introduces the anticipated effects of doing so. In other words, the word “because” in English refers to two types of causes: one that already exists and one that is the intended result of the course of action in question.

Rabbi Wolf Heidenheim (1757–1832), Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785–1865), and the Malbim (1809–1879) all explain the difference between baavur and biglal based on the logic above. Indeed, both words mean “because” in English, but each one means a different type of “because”. They explain that biglal refers to a “because” which calls for a pre-existing factor that justifies a certain action. On the other hand, baavur refers to a factor which does not yet exist, but is the anticipated result of the action.

The word bishvil can literally mean bi-shvil (on the road) which might be a metaphoric way of relating to the relationship between a cause and effect. It does not appear in the Bible, but does appear in later, Rabbinic writings. For example, the word bishvil appears close to fifty times in the Mishnah. While it usually bears the same meaning as the Biblical biglal, in at least one case it means the same as baavur (see Bava Metziah 5:10). Interestingly, both biglal and baavur never appear in the Mishnah, except that the latter appears once in a Biblical verse cited by the Mishnah. For some reason, the fashioners of Modern Hebrew favored the word bishvil over the two Biblical words and that has become the catch-all word for “because” in popular speech.

Going back to the case of the Pharaoh, we can now understand why the Torah uses the word baavur and not biglal or bishvil. First of all, the word bishvil is out of the running because it never appears in the Bible. Secondly, the word biglal refers to a pre-existing reason for the action in discussion. In our passage, there is no pre-existing reason for the Pharaoh’s life to be spared. He had no merits or other redeeming qualities which should save him from the punishment he deserved. The only reason why G-d wanted to save the Pharaoh was so that in the future the Pharaoh may speak of G-d’s power and spread awareness about Him to all and sundry. Since the reason for saving the Pharaoh was the anticipated, future outcome of doing so, the Torah uses the word baavur.

Indeed, the Midrash (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer chs. 42–43) relates that the Pharaoh survived the Plague of the Firstborn (even though he was a firstborn) and the Splitting of the Red Sea (even though the rest of his army drowned). He somehow ended up a castaway who eventually came to Nineveh. There, he (or perhaps his descendants or reincarnation) rose to a prominent position and roused its sinful inhabitants to heed the Prophet Jonah’s warnings to repent.