ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש ויך את המצרי ויטמנהו בחול.
“And he turned here and there and he saw that there is no man, and he smote the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (Shemos 2:12)
The Torah tells us how Moshe stood up for his brothers and smote an Egyptian in defense of a hapless Jewish victim.
Why does the verse describe how Moshe “turned here and there” before smiting the Egyptian? It would have been enough to say that there were no people in the surrounding area. It is also surprising that no one was there at the time; after all, this incident took place at the busy work-site where there were thousands of Jewish workers and their Egyptian taskmasters. Furthermore, why does the verse tell us that the Egyptian was buried in the sand?
As we know, the Torah does not merely recount the stories of our past, but each and every word carries a special message for us and guides us in proper thoughts and behaviors. This is actually the meaning of the word “Torah” which is from the root word horaah – guideline. By searching for the guidelines that are hidden in each word of Torah, we will achieve the ultimate sheleimus. This verse, too, is full of meaning, and each word conveys an important message.
We have already discussed many times that there are fifty Gates of Wisdom. Each person must strive to perfect himself in all attributes that lead up to the fiftieth gate. How can a person, who is merely flesh and blood, reach such great heights?
When the Jewish people were in Egypt, they fell to a very low spiritual level and were unworthy of being redeemed. Hashem revealed Himself to them and lifted them up out of the abyss, and raised them up to the level of the fiftieth Gate of Wisdom. Although they were now on a high spiritual level, they had not earned these achievements. Hashem wanted them to maintain their spiritual level, but in order to do so they had to acquire these spiritual gains through their own efforts. The Jewish people began working on themselves, perfecting each middah – each attribute, until they finally acquired the fiftieth gate through their own efforts and were able to maintain the high spiritual level they had achieved before.
Hashem does the same for all of us each year. He takes us out of the forty nine gates of impurity and brings us towards the fifty gates of kedushah. And then, Hashem tells us: “Now begin working on yourself to acquire these fifty gates of kedushah that you received as a gift!”
If a person already acquired half of the fifty attributes, then he can be assured that he will acquire the other half as well, as the Gemara says (Yuma 38b): “If most of his years passed without sin, he is guaranteed that he will no longer sin.” The word shanah – year, has the same numerical value as sefirah – the special attributes the person must acquire. We can now interchange these two words and read the Gemara as follows: If a person has already perfected at least half of the fifty attributes, then he can be assured that he will acquire the other half as well.
The verse can be interpreted as follows: “A person turns here and there.” The word כה, used for “here” and “there” has a value of 25. A person takes a look at himself turning this way and that, at the first half of the fifty attributes that should be acquired through his own efforts exclusively, and at the rest of the 25 attributes that will follow from Above. “And he sees that he is no man! ” He sees that he has not accomplished anything substantial – not even half. Who has caused him to fall short of his potential? The “Mitzri – Egyptian.” This is a reference to the yetzer hara who is “meitzar l’Yisroel” – he constricts the Jewish people. He keeps on harassing us and prevents us from achieving greatness.
Moshe went and smote the Egyptian – the yetzer hara, and “hid him in the sand.” The word chol – sand, holds the secret to our strongest weapon against the yetzer hara. חול stands for חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל – “His laws and statutes for the Jewish people.” The verse is telling us that we can overcome the yetzer hara by immersing ourselves in Torah. Our sages tell us (Kiddushin 30b) that Hashem said: “I have created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as an antidote.” Torah is a powerful antidote for the yetzer hara. Moshe showed us that we can smite the yetzer hara through the power of chol - Torah.
The word chol carries another message for us. We have another strong weapon against the yetzer hara: Shabbos! On Shabbos, a person has the ability to “smite the Egyptian” and subdue his evil inclination. However, in order to gain greater spiritual heights on Shabbos, the person must make the necessary preparations to welcome Shabbos properly, as our sages tell us: “He who toils before Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” Some people prepare themselves spiritually for Shabbos right before the arrival of the Shabbos queen. Others begin their preparations on Friday morning, and still others begin preparing themselves from Thursday night. Those who are more spiritually attuned will begin preparing for Shabbos on Wednesday, but great tzaddikim begin preparing on Shabbos from Sunday. Immediately after the previous Shabbos is over, they remember the coming Shabbos and start preparing themselves for this holy day.
When a person prepares himself properly for Shabbos throughout the week, then he can harness the power of Shabbos to overcome his yetzer hara. By being careful all week to avoid sin, in order to be able to feel the taste of Shabbos when it arrives, one can truly subdue the yetzer hara.
The verse is telling us that the Egyptian – the yetzer hara, was buried in the chol – sand. The word chol also means weekdays. According to the person’s preparations for Shabbos during the weekdays, that’s how effectively he can bury his yetzer hara and overcome his evil inclination.
In the song of Koh Echsof by Rabbi Aharon Hagadol, he eloquently expresses this concept: “Sanctify them with the sanctity of Shabbos, which unites with Your Torah.” Learning Torah, and the holy Shabbos day, have the power to overcome the yetzer hara.