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Sukah 51

SUKA 36-56 (End of Maseches) have been dedicated by the wife and daughters of the late Dr. Simcha Bekelnitzky (Simcha Gedalya ben Shraga Feibush) of Queens N.Y. Well known in the community for his Chesed and Tzedakah, he will long be remembered.


OPINIONS: Rebbi Yehudah said that one who had not seen the great synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, had never seen the glory of Israel. The Beraisa goes on to describe the magnificence of the structure and the huge number of Jews that worshipped there.

Abaye concludes the Beraisa's description by telling us of the tragic end of the Alexandrian Jewish community. The entire community was wiped out by a Roman monarch (according to the Vilna Ga'on and the Yerushalmi, Trajan; according to Rav Yakov Emden, the Abarbanel in his introduction to Melachim, and perhaps Rashi here DH Stav (..."Alexandrus"), the Roman monarch Alexander Latirus; according to the Gemara in Gitin 57b, the emperor Hadrian -- it does not seem plausible that Alexander the Macedon killed them, as the text of our Gemara reads, since he lived much earlier, see ARUCH LA'NER). The Gemara explains that the people of Alexandria were punished because they transgressed the prohibition, "You shall not return on this path [to Egypt] anymore" (Devarim 17:16).

The Mechilta (Shemos 14:13) expands on this Isur and says that in three different places the Torah warns us not to return to Egypt. The first verse is the one quoted above, "You shall not return..." (Devarim 17:16). The second verse is, "... for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall never see them again" (Shemos 14:13). The third verse appears in the admonition in Parshas Ki Savo, "Hashem will return you to Egypt in boats, on the path of which I said to you, 'You shall not see it ever again'" (Devarim 28:68). The RAMBAM (Hilchos Melachim 5:7 and Sefer ha'Mitzvos, Lo Ta'aseh 46) quotes the Mechilta and adds that the Isur to live in Egypt applies to an area of 400 by 400 Parsa'os in the north-eastern corner of the African continent, which includes the Sudan, Ethiopia and some of the Sahara Desert.

It seems from the Gemara, the Mechilta and the ruling of the Rambam that it is forbidden for a Jew to return to Egypt. However, we know of many prominent Jewish communities in Egypt, up until recent times (see the book, "Tuv Mitzrayim," by Rabbi Yosef Nefussi). Many Gedolim, such as the Rambam himself and the Radvaz, one of the foremost commentators on Mishneh Torah, lived there as well. The KAFTOR VA'FERACH (ch. 5) writes that he met one of the Rambam's grandsons in Egypt who told him that his grandfather would sign his letters, "Moshe ben Maimon, who transgresses three prohibitions each day."

Why did these Gedolei Torah live in Egypt even after reading of the fate of the Alexandria Jewish community?

(a) The SEMAG (Lo Ta'aseh 227) writes that the prohibition against living in Egypt applies only to living among the Egyptians who were there at the time that the Torah was given. The Torah did not want the Jews to learn from that nation's evil ways, as the Rambam (ibid.) and Sefer ha'Chinuch (Mitzvah #500) write. After Sancheriv jumbled the nations of the world it is permitted to live in Egypt, because the people there are not the Egyptians of yore. This also seems to be the opinion of Rabeinu Bachye (Devarim 17:16).

However, the Semag himself rejects this suggestion because of our Sugya, in which it is evident that the people of Alexandria, who settled there *after* Sancheriv mixed up the nations, were still punished.

The RITVA (Yoma 38a) modifies the Semag's explanation in order to answer this question. He says that the prohibition applies to living in the cities that *were founded by* the original Egyptians. (Alexandria, although developed and renamed by Alexander, was originally an ancient Egyptian city.) This is presumably because the customs of the cities follow those of the original inhabitants. Now that those cities are no longer settled and different cities are settled instead, it is not forbidden to live in Egypt in the new cities.

(b) The SEFER YERE'IM (Siman 309) writes that the Torah forbids only going *from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt*, as is implied by the verse quoted by our Gemara. The logic behind this might be that returning to Egypt from Eretz Yisrael shows a lack of gratitude to Hashem. If one goes from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt after Hashem took us out from there, it is as if one is saying that he does not need nor appreciate what Hashem gave him.

The RITVA and the KAFTOR VA'FERACH add that it is only forbidden to go to Egypt from Eretz Yisrael through the desert, following the path the Jews took out of Egypt. However, the BRIS MOSHE on the Semag points out that the verse in Devarim (ibid.) seems to contradict this, for it says that Hashem will send the Jews "by boats to Egypt, in the way that He said not to return there," which implies that it is forbidden to go from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt even by boat.

The RADVAZ asks that even if the Isur is to go from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt by any route, that is supported only by the verse which our Gemara quotes. The other two verses, though, mention only that it is forbidden to go to Egypt, but make no mention of *how*, or from where, one gets there.

(c) The RITVA (ibid.) concludes that the Isur only applies when the Jewish people are an independent nation, settled in their homeland, and they go to live in Egypt. When the Jews are in a state of Galus, all parts of the Diaspora are the same and one may live in Egypt just like he may live in any other country. The only Isur that applies then is not to leave Eretz Yisrael if he is living there, no matter where he leaves to. This might be Rashi's intention in our Sugya when he writes (DH Stav) that the people of Alexandria settled there at the time of the Churban of the first Beis ha'Mikdash. That is, the problem was that they went directly from the Jewish kingdom in Eretz Yisrael to Egypt. Had they not reached Alexandria directly from Eretz Yisrael, it would have been Mutar for them to go to Egypt.

The logic behind this is presumably that going to Egypt when Eretz Yisrael is occupied by Jews shows a lack of Emunah in Hashem. The Jews should live in Eretz Yisrael and trust in Hashem to protect them, rather than going to neighboring Egypt for protection. After they are sent into Galus, though, and they need to find a place to live, they may live wherever they want.

(d) The RADVAZ (Hilchos Melachim 5:7) writes that the Isur is to *go* to Egypt, not to live there. Once a person is already in Egypt, having arrived there in a permitted fashion (such as for business, which the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 10:9) permits), then if he decides to live there, he transgresses no Isur d'Oraisa (but only an Isur d'Rabanan). Since it is difficult to travel and to find a livelihood once a person is settled, the Rabanan were lenient and did not require him to leave if he has already settled, until the time comes that he is able to leave easily.

(e) However, the RAMBAM and the SEFER HA'CHINUCH seem to preclude any of these explanations. They seem to rule that the Isur applies today unconditionally, regardless of where a person is coming from or what path he takes to get there, and they write that *living* there is Asur and not merely going there.

Why, then, did the Rambam live in Egypt? The RADVAZ and the KAFTOR VA'FERACH write that perhaps he had no choice, since he was the physician of the Sultan, and it was not possible for him to leave.

What the Radvaz might mean by this is that it is permitted to go to Egypt for business or any other temporary purpose, as long as one intends to leave when he can. It is even permitted to settle there for an extended period, since he plans to leave. The Rambam always had plans to leave; to remind himself of this he adopted the practice of signing his letters as "sinner of three sins" so long as he did not have concrete plans for when he would leave. This is consistent with what the Radvaz states (in Hilchos Melachim, and in Teshuvos 4:1145) in a personal vein that he himself lived in Egypt for many years, where he founded a Yeshivah and taught Torah until he eventually left and came to Eretz Yisrael. Such a thing, he says, is certainly permitted, since he did not settle there for the sake of living in Egypt, but in order to teach Torah to those who were already there, and he planned to leave when the opportunity arose.

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