QUESTION: Hash-m wanted to make Chizkiyahu ha'Melech into Mashi'ach, and to make Sancheriv into Gog u'Magog, and to bring the final Ge'ulah in his time. However, because Chizkiyahu did not say Shirah to Hash-m in gratitude for the miracles that He did for Chizkiyahu, Hash-m did not make him Mashi'ach. This is alluded to by the "Mem Sofis," the closed final Mem that appears at the beginning of the word, "l'Marbeh" (Yeshayah 9:6), in the verse that discusses Chizkiyahu's successful reign.
Why indeed did Chizkiyahu not say Shirah for such a tremendous miracle?
(The Midrash (Shir ha'Shirim Rabah 4:19) states that Chizkiyahu did not say Shirah because of his arrogance. When Yeshayah asked him why he did not say Shirah, he answered that "everyone knows already how wondrous are the ways of Hash-m. They saw how Hash-m stopped the sun in the middle of the sky." However, Chizkiyahu certainly justified his actions and did not think that they were done out of arrogance. What was his justification for his actions? (See EMEK BERACHAH, at the end of his discussion of Hallel.))
(a) The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM cites the EIN ELIYAHU who explains that it is not appropriate to say Shirah for every form of salvation. The Gemara earlier (Sanhedrin 39b) teaches that when Yehoshafat went to war with the enemy after receiving prophecy that he would win, the Jews did not say the complete praise of "Hodu la'Shem Ki Tov," but rather they omitted the words "Ki Tov" because the enemy was being decimated and thus it was not proper to sing Shirah. Similarly, when the Mitzrim were drowning in the sea, Hash-m prevented the Mal'achim from saying Shirah.
On the other hand, the Gemara in Berachos (10a) relates that David ha'Melech sang Shirah when he witnessed the downfall of the Resha'im. Apparently, there are two different forms of defeat that the Resha'im could suffer (see MAHARSHA to Berachos 9b, and TZELACH to Berachos 10a). The Zohar (Parshas Noach, 61b; see also Shelah, Parshas Beshalach) actually discusses this point and differentiates between the two forms of defeat of Resha'im as follows. The Zohar says that when Hash-m punishes the wicked after "their measure is full" (i.e. when they have been given every last opportunity to repent, and they reject them all), He rejoices in their demise. In contrast, when He punishes them before their "limit" has been reached, instead of rejoicing there is sorrow before Him. The Zohar continues and explains why Hash-m would destroy people before their time has come. The Zohar answers that sometimes the wicked bring upon themselves a premature end. When the evildoers pose an immediate threat to the Jewish nation, Hash-m finds it necessary to destroy them without delay. When this happens, Hash-m is not pleased with the premature destruction of the wicked. This was the case when the Mitzrim were drowned in the sea and when Yehoshafat's armies conquered the forces of Moav.
The reason for this is clear. Hash-m prefers to see the evildoer mend his ways rather than to have to destroy him. This is why Hash-m gives a person plenty of time to repent, even after the person sins. However, even this merciful reprieve has its limits. A person's time to be taken from this world eventually arrives. At that point, the demise of the sinner is beneficial for both the sinner himself (who will no longer be able to sin) and for the world (which will no longer be able to learn from the evil ways of the sinner), as the Mishnah says earlier (Sanhedrin 71b). The destruction of the wicked sanctifies the Name of Hash-m. When the time for the destruction of the wicked has come, there is joy before Hash-m. (See Parsha Page, Seventh of Pesach 5756.)
The Ein Eliyahu explains that Chizkiyahu thought that Sancheriv was being destroyed only to save the Jewish people, and that his destined time of punishment had not yet arrived. Therefore, he assumed that Hash-m was not happy with the destruction of Sancheriv and therefore he did not say Shirah. In truth, however, the destined time had come for the destruction of Sancheriv and his army and for the redemption of the people, and therefore Chizkiyahu should have said Shirah.
The Ein Eliyahu's answer is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is clear that Hash-m destroyed Sancheriv only to save Chizkiyahu.
Second, it is clear from the Gemara that when a Rasha is destroyed to save a Tzadik, the Tzadik who benefits from the miracle certainly is obligated to say Shirah and thank Hash-m for his salvation. His Shirah is to thank Hash-m for his own salvation, and not to thank Hash-m for the destruction of the Rasha. It is only others, such as the Mal'achim at the time of Keri'as Yam Suf, who would be thanking Hash-m for the destruction of the Resha'im as well. This is why the members of Yehoshafat's army did say Shirah, albeit an abridged version, when they went to war. They omitted only the words "Ki Tov," which imply that Hash-m is pleased with what has occurred (as Rashi (39b) explains), and thus it is not appropriate to say "Ki Tov" when the salvation involved the premature destruction of the enemy.
Third, Rashi says that Chizkiyahu had a second reason to say Shirah -- because he recovered from his life-threatening illness. Why did he not say Shirah for that salvation, which did not involve the destruction of any enemies?
(b) The ROGATCHOVER GA'ON in TZAFNAS PANE'ACH (in Hashmatos to Hilchos Berachos 10:11 (printed at the end of Sefer Hafla'ah, p. 55a) and in Teshuvos 2:8, Dvinsk) explains as follows.
The Gemara in Ta'anis (28b) teaches that a Yachid (individual) may not say Hallel whenever he wants, implying that a Tzibur (an entire congregation or community) may say Hallel anytime. TOSFOS in Sukah (44b) explains that the Tzibur which may say Hallel anytime is not a single congregation or community, but the entire nation. The Gemara, he explains, refers to the Hallel which is recited upon being the beneficiary of a miraculous salvation. This form of Hallel is recited only when the miracle was one that saved the entire nation.
What constitutes an "entire nation"? The Gemara in Horayos (5b) and the Yerushalmi in Berachos (9:1) cite an opinion that even an entire Shevet is not considered a "Kahal." Only the entire nation is a "Kahal." It follows that Shirah should not be said for the salvation of the Jewish people unless the entire Jewish people is saved, and not just individual Shevatim. Since, at the time of Chizkiyahu, the Ten Tribes had already been exiled, Chizkiyahu did not deem it appropriate to say Hallel to thank Hash-m for the salvation of only two tribes, since it was not a miracle performed for the salvation of the entire nation. (The same logic might apply to the Shirah for recovering from his illness. Since the king is comparable to the entire nation -- as the Gemara later (95a) teaches with regard to David ha'Melech, and as the Gemara in Ta'anis (9a) teaches with regard to Moshe Rabeinu -- his salvation was one that affected the entire nation. Therefore, had all of the Shevatim been under his rule, he would have been able to say Shirah, but since most of the Shevatim were already exiled he did not say Shirah. -M. KORNFELD)
What, then, was Chizkiyahu's mistake?
The Tzafnas Pane'ach quotes RASHI in Megilah (31a) who writes that the defeat of Sancheriv occurred on the seventh day of Pesach (which is why it is read as that day's Haftarah, according to the Gemara there). On the seventh day of Pesach, Hallel is recited because it is Pesach. However, only the abridged version of Hallel is recited. (The Gemara in Erchin (11a) asserts that Hallel is not said, but it is customary to say the "half-Hallel" on the seventh of Pesach. The RAN in the second Perek of Shabbos cites the RAMBAN who adds that it is even required by Halachah to recite the half-Hallel on the last days of Pesach.)
The Gemara in Ta'anis states that although an individual alone should not say Hallel for the occurrence of a miracle, if he begins to recite Hallel, he should complete the Hallel. Since, on the seventh day of Pesach, the people in Chizkiyahu's time already were saying part of Hallel because of the festival, they should have finished it because of the miracle that occurred on that day in their own time, even though that miracle happened to only a few of the Shevatim. For not reciting the full Hallel, Chizkiyahu was punished.
This is what the Gemara means when it says that the letter Mem became closed because Chizkiyahu's mouth "became closed" (according to one explanation in Rashi). This implies that he was criticized because his mouth was open already in saying Shirah, but he closed it and did not complete the Shirah.
(Actually, Rashi in Megilah does not mention that Sancheriv's army fell on the seventh night of Pesach. He says that the reason why the fall of Sancheriv is read on the seventh day of Pesach is that Sancheriv fell on "the evening of Pesach," that is, on the first night of Pesach (while the Jewish people were eating the Korban Pesach). This is consistent with what Rashi writes in Yeshayah 38:1 and Melachim II 20:1, and with the words of the Midrash (Shemos Rabah 18:5) cited by the TORAS CHAIM (Sanhedrin 95a) and paraphrased in the Piyut, "va'Yehi ba'Chatzi ha'Lailah," which is recited on the first night of Pesach. Accordingly, the Jewish people were not reciting a half-Hallel on the day of Sancheriv's fall. However, Rashi in Yeshayah 9:2-3 and 30:32 cites another Midrash which asserts that the fall of Sancheriv occurred on the second night of Pesach, the day on which the Omer barley is harvested. This is the way the TOSFOS YOM TOV quotes Rashi in Megilah 31b (despite the fact that he references Rashi in Yeshayah 38 which states otherwise), and this is consistent with what the Gemara here teaches, that Chizkiyahu did not recite Hallel on the day that Sancheriv's army fell. This seems to be the Gemara's intention later (95b) when it teaches that the night of Sancheriv's fall was "when grain becomes ripe," that is, it occurred on the night during which the first of the year's grain is harvested. The Tzafnas Pane'ach apparently had in mind these citations from Rashi (that the army of Sancheriv fell on the second night of Pesach) when he wrote his explanation. -M. KORNFELD)
(c) RAV YITZCHAK LEVI zt'l once suggested an explanation for this Gemara based on what Rashi writes in Yeshayah. The verse, "Azi v'Zimras Kah va'Yehi Li li'Yeshu'ah", appears three times in Tanach: in the Shirah the Jewish people said at Keri'as Yam Suf (Shemos 15:2), in the paragraphs of Hallel (Tehilim 118:14), and in Yeshayah (12:2). The verse in Yeshayah contains one additional word: "Azi v'Zimras Kah Hash-m va'Yehi Li li'Yeshu'ah." Rashi there explains that Yeshayah is praising Hash-m for the future defeat of Amalek (at the war of Gog u'Magog). At that point in time, the Name of Hash-m (Yud-Heh) will be complete again. That is why Yeshayah added the full Name of Hash-m to his words of praise.
When the army of Sancheriv was destroyed, it could have been the destruction of all evil from the world, had Chizkiyahu said Shirah. This means that Chizkiyahu did say Shirah, but he did not say the full Shirah with the full Name of Hash-m, denoting the final destruction of all forces of evil. This is alluded to in the Gemara's words when it says that "his mouth closed." Since he did not recognize the victory as the final destruction of all evil, Hash-m in turn made the victory into an ordinary one and not the final victory over all evil.
The same idea explains why the Gemara says that Moshe Rabeinu did not say Shirah until Yisro came and said, "Baruch Hash-m" (Shemos 18:10). What does the Gemara mean when it says that Moshe Rabeinu and the Jewish people did not say Shirah? They said the entire Shirah of "Az Yashir" to thank Hash-m at Keri'as Yam Suf! The answer is that they said "Azi v'Zimras Kah" without the complete Name of Hash-m, while Yisro said the Name of Hash-m, showing that he recognized that the victory could have been the final victory over all evil had the Jewish people been worthy.
QUESTION: The Gemara explains that the verse "va'Yichad Yisro" (Shemos 18:9) means that Yisro wielded a sharp ("Chad") sword upon his body, meaning that he circumcised himself.
Why does the Torah allude to his circumcision by such an unusual phrase? The Torah should say either that he circumcised himself, or that he cut himself. Why does the Torah emphasize the sharpness of the blade?
ANSWER: The ROGATCHOVER GA'ON (in Chidushim to the Torah, Parshas Yisro) explains the Gemara as follows. The RAMBAM (Hilchos Melachim 10:8) rules that Bnei Keturah and their descendants are required to circumcise themselves because they are the children of Avraham Avinu (see RASHI to Sanhedrin 59b, DH Bnei Keturah). Yisro -- who came from Midyan, who was one of the Bnei Keturah -- presumably had performed Milah before he became a Ger. What, then, does the Gemara here mean when it says that now he performed Milah?
The MAHARSHA answers that Avraham Avinu and his descendants were commanded to perform only circumcision itself (as the Gemara says in Yevamos 71b), but not the act of Peri'ah, which became obligatory only after Yehoshua brought the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael. (Although Avraham Avinu performed Peri'ah, as Rashi says at end of Parshas Lech Lecha, Tosfos in Yevamos explains that he did so as "Eino Metzuveh v'Oseh," as he performed all of the Mitzvos that eventually would be given.) Yisro needed to perform Peri'ah, as well as Hatafas Dam Bris, as is done to a child who is born circumcised.
The Gemara in Shabbos (135a) relates that Rav Ada had a child who was born circumcised. When he performed Hatafas Dam Bris, he accidentally made the child into a Kerus Shafchah. The RIF cites RAV HAI GA'ON who warns the Mohel that when he performs Hatafas Dam Bris, he must be very careful and avoid making the child a Kerus Shafchah.
The Rogatchover Ga'on suggests that this is why the verse emphasizes that Yisro used a sharp sword. Since he needed to perform Hatafas Dam Bris, it had to be done with an especially sharp knife so that he would be able to do the Hatafas Dam Bris without harming himself.