QUESTION: The Gemara says that Pharaoh was one Amah tall, his beard was one Amah long, and his Ever was an Amah and a Zeres long.
What is the intention of the Gemara's strange description of Pharaoh?
ANSWER: The MAHARAL (Be'er ha'Golah #5) explains that the Gemara is not describing Pharaoh's physical attributes. Rather, it is describing the measurements that would have been appropriate for him based on his deeds and character traits. Those physical attributes reflect his essential nature. This would have been Pharaoh's physical constitution had it been possible for a person to have such a constitution.
(a) The MAHARAL explains that when the Gemara says that Pharaoh was very short, it means that he was lowly and of low esteem. The fact that the Jewish people fell into the hands of such a lowly person was, in a certain sense, a positive development because it indicated that the Jewish people had reached the very bottom of their descent by being subject to such a lowly monarch, and thus their redemption surely was soon to follow. Hash-m is "Magbi'ah Shefalim," He raises up the lowly and redeems them. (See Kesuvos 66b -- "Happy is Yisrael, for when they are punished they are subject to the lowest of the nations.")
(b) When the Gemara says that Pharaoh's member was "an Amah and a Zeres long," it alludes to his shameful deeds and how his shame was the most outstanding of his attributes.
The BEN YEHOYADA adds that the land of Mitzrayim is called "Ervas ha'Aretz" (Bereishis 42:9) because its people were entirely immersed in immorality at a time when all other nations distanced themselves from immorality (see Rashi to Bereishis 34:7, Bamidbar 22:5, and Vayikra 18:3). The Gemara here teaches that Pharaoh, the leader of Mitzrayim, epitomized the trait of licentiousness of his country.
(This may also be the Gemara's intention when it says that Pharaoh was one Amah tall and his beard was one Amah long. The height of an Amah alludes to the fact that Pharaoh's essence was concentrated solely on immorality, represented by the word "Amah." When the Gemara says that his beard was one Amah long, it means that all of his wisdom (represented by the beard) was concentrated solely on immoral pursuits.)


QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Shmuel who says that a man is permitted to become engaged to a woman during Chol ha'Mo'ed. Shmuel explains that this is because if he tarries until after the festival, perhaps another man will merit to marry her, through his prayer, and will succeed in taking her away.
The Gemara then gives an example of how one person is able to take away another person's intended spouse through prayer. Rava heard a man pray that Hash-m let him marry a certain woman. Rava told him not to pray for such a thing "because if she is destined to be your wife, she will be your wife anyway and you do not have to pray for her, but if she is not destined to be your wife, then you are denying Hash-m." Later, Rava heard the person pray that Hash-m should take his life or take the woman's life (so that he not have to see the woman marry another man, as Rashi explains). Rava scolded him and said, "I told you that you should not pray for such things."
The Gemara records this incident in order to prove that a person's prayer is able change his destiny with regard to whom he marries. However, this incident proves the opposite! Rava said that one's prayers do not have any effect on whom he marries. Why does the Gemara cite this incident?
(a) RASHI (DH O Iyhu) writes that it is not possible for one person to prevent another from marrying his intended spouse -- except by praying that either the man or woman dies. A person cannot prevent a destined marriage by merely praying that he should marry the woman instead of the other man. This is what Shmuel means when he says, "Shema Yekadmenu Acher" -- he means that perhaps someone else will pray that she should die, but not that perhaps someone else will marry her.
(b) The RITVA explains that after Rava told the person not to pray, the person did not listen and he continued to pray that he should marry a certain woman. His prayers indeed were answered and he married the woman of his prayers. After he married her, however, the marriage was so fraught with difficulty that he prayed that either he or she should die. At that point Rava said to him, "Did I not tell you that there is nothing to gain by praying to change your destined spouse?"
According to this explanation, it is clear that when Rava originally told the man not to pray because "if she is not destined to be your wife, then you are denying Hash-m," he did not mean that it is impossible to change one's destiny. Rather, he was merely trying to discourage the person because he saw that the marriage would not work. (The man's desire to pray that he marry a certain woman was considered "heretical" because he implied, through his prayer, that he "knew better" than Hash-m what was good for him.) The only acceptable and effective way to pray for an appropriate Shiduch is by doing good deeds in order to merit a fitting match.
The MAHARSHAM points out that the Yerushalmi (Beitzah 5:2) states explicitly that even if one manages to change his nuptial destiny through prayer, the marriage will not be successful ("Lo Kaima"). Moreover, the Zohar (Mishpatim 109a) says that any children born from such a marriage will be attributed in some metaphysical way to the man who was supposed to be the father of those children, the predestined husband of the woman.
This also seems to be the approach of RASHI on the Rif and of the TALMID RABEINU YECHIEL.
(c) The NIMUKEI YOSEF and the CHIDUSHEI HA'RAN explain (apparently based on the Yerushalmi) that if a person changes his destiny through prayer, the change will not be lasting; eventually the right man will get the right wife because the wrong one will die or divorce her. Their text of the Gemara reads, "Kafarta Bah" instead of "Kafarta ba'Hashem" -- "if she is not destined to be your wife, then you will have rebelled against her"; that is, you will eventually realize that she is not fit for you and you will rebel against her. Accordingly, Rava did not mean that it is impossible to change one's destined spouse; it is possible to change one's destined spouse temporarily. That is why Shmuel permits one to become engaged on Chol ha'Mo'ed lest somebody else take her as his wife temporarily.