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    The pasuk in the
    beginning of the parsha
    says that when the
    Jewish people left
    Egypt, they were
    ‘chamushim’ [Shemos
    13:18]. Rashi cites two
    interpretations of the word ‘chamushim’.
    There are in fact at least 3 seemingly disparate
    interpretations of this word found among the
    According to one interpretation in Rashi,
    ‘chamushim’ comes from the word ‘chomesh’
    (one-fifth) and indicates that only one fifth of
    the Jewish population in Egypt merited to
    leave, while the other eighty percent died
    during the 3 days of Darkness (Plague #9).
    The Targum Yerushalmi interprets the word
    ‘chamushim’ to mean they were armed. Rashi
    alludes to this interpretation, but seems to
    interpret it to mean that they were literally
    armed with weapons. The Targum Yerushalmi,
    on the other hand, interprets it figuratively –
    they were ‘armed with good deeds’.
    The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel gives a third
    interpretation: ‘Chamushim’ means that
    everyone went out with 5 children.

    Superficially, these are three disparate
    interpretations: (a) one-fifth of the population
    left; (b) armed with good deeds; (c) bringing
    along 5 children each.
    The interpretation of the Targum Yonasan
    ben Uziel is statistically mind- boggling. Shall
    we presume that everyone had exactly 5
    children? In addition, even if that was the
    family size of each family unit, but the
    implication is that they were all children, of
    roughly the same age! What is the meaning of
    The Be’er Yosef by Rav Yosef Salant gives a
    beautiful interpretation. He links all 3
    seemingly independent interpretations of the
    word ‘chamushim’ into a single narrative with
    a single theme. He writes that if four-fifths of
    the Jewish people died during the Plague of
    Darkness, one can likely presume that
    specifically the adults died. Granted, the adults
    might have sinned and been unworthy of the
    Exodus, but how can we speak of the “sins of
    young children”?
    Therefore, Rav Salant suggests that the
    children of these ‘wicked Jews’ did not die,
    which would imply that four-fifths of the
    Jewish children at the time of the Exodus were

    orphans. Imagine the scene – tens of
    thousands of little Jewish orphans
    wandering around. Who is going to take
    care of them? What is going to be with
    them? The answer is that every one of
    the remaining Jewish families ‘chipped
    in’ and said, “We’ll take these orphans
    with us.” Thus, mathematically, every
    remaining family adopted four families
    worth of orphans.
    Therefore, when the Targum Yonasan
    ben Uziel says “five children”, he does not
    mean that everyone went out with 5 children.
    He means that everyone went out with 5
    families worth of children – their own set and
    the set of four other families worth of orphans
    whose parents died during the Plague of
    Darkness! This then fits in perfectly with the
    interpretation of the Targum Yerushalmi – they
    went out armed with good deeds! The good
    deeds were the fact that they adopted the poor
    orphans left over from the people killed during
    the ninth plague.
    The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel is suggesting
    an amazing thing, which was a source of
    extraordinary merit. Consider that after the
    Holocaust, there were undoubtedly thousands
    of orphans. What happened to these
    kids? This is equivalent to everyone
    who survived the Holocaust taking in X
    number of orphans. Anyone who takes
    in an orphan is doing an amazing act of
    chessed. However, we must understand
    that these people were refugees
    themselves. They were not people who
    were living a normal life who then
    decided to “take in a few orphans”.
    These were displaced people
    themselves. These people did not know
    where tomorrow’s bread was coming
    from! When Klal Yisrael adopted the
    attitude “We can’t leave these kids in
    Egypt” and dismissed all the natural
    concerns about their own welfare and
    the welfare of their own families in a
    time of great uncertainty, this was a
    tremendous act of courage and
    selflessness. This brought them great
    merit. This “armed them” with the merit
    of great acts of kindness.

    Thus, all three interpretations: “one-
    fifth”, “five children”, and “armed with

    acts of kindness” dovetail together,
    according to the insight of Rav Yosef
    Rav Matisyahu Solomon, the
    Lakewood Mashgiach, adds a beautiful
    appendage to this insight. The Medrash
    Rabbah in Eicha on the pasuk, “We
    were orphans who had no father” [Eicha
    5:3] states that G-d tells the Jewish
    people “Because you cried out to me
    that you were like orphans who had no
    father, I will send to you a redeemer

    who has no father or mother.” This refers to
    Esther in the time of Haman’s decree, about
    whom it is written, “And he raised Hadassah
    who is the same as Esther the daughter of his
    uncle, for she had neither father nor mother…”
    [Esther 2:7].
    Rav Matisyahu Solomon interprets this
    Medrash: There is a special ‘segulah’ [virtuous
    Attribute] in the way the Almighty responds to
    orphans. The Almighty testifies that He will
    inevitably respond to the cry of the orphan: “If
    you will persecute him such that he cries out to
    Me, I will surely hear his cry.” [Shemos 22:22]
    Hashem is the Father of Orphans. When people
    inflict pain on orphans, G-d says, “This is My
    Business!” Watch out for a father or mother
    when someone dares to startup with his or her
    children. So too, one must “watch out”, as it
    were, for G-d’s punishment if he dares start up
    with orphans and abuses or persecutes them.
    The Rambam defines this as a “sealed
    covenant” (Bris Kerusah) that the Almighty
    will respond to the cries of help from an
    orphan. [Matanos L’Aniyim 10:3]
    When Klal Yisrael said (in the above quoted
    pasuk in Eicha), “We are like orphans who
    have no father” (referring to the Jews crying
    out in the time of Haman’s decree), it
    guaranteed a response from the Almighty.
    Hashem agreed that a response had to be
    forthcoming, but He said (as it were) “I need a
    catalyst.” The catalyst was Mordechai. Since
    Mordechai raised Hadassah (Esther), who was
    an orphan and had no parents, this act of
    kindness triggered the Divine Response that
    brought about the salvation from Haman’s
    decree. The Medrash says that Mordechai
    could have escaped the decree and returned to
    Eretz Yisrael, but he refused to leave Persia
    because he was concerned about Esther’s
    welfare. This was the ‘spark’ — the “arousal
    from below” – that in turn set off the “arousal
    from Above” which brought the redemption.
    Rav Matisyahu Solomon says that with this
    background, we can now understand why Klal
    Yisrael in Egypt needed the merit of taking out
    all these thousands of orphans. When Klal
    Yisrael (despite all the reasons for not doing
    so) acted like the “father of orphans” and each
    took in four families worth of children with no
    parents, this (as the Targum Yerushalmi
    comments) was a tremendous merit, which
    triggered the Divine Response of G-d, the
    Father of all orphans.