The Torah informs us that Hashem saved Klal Yisrael with a “Yad HaChazaka u’Vizroah Netuyah – A strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm.” Of course, these terms are anthropomorphic in nature for, as we know, Hashem has no corporeal form. It is our job to understand what each metaphor is meant to convey.
The Yad HaChazaka refers specifically to the plague of the first born, with its devastating and fatal impact on every single Egyptian palace, home, and hovel. It also refers to the mighty feat of compassion manifested when Hashem took out the Bnei Yisrael, though they had already sunk to the forty-ninth degree of contamination. Indeed, it is this attribute of mercy that we remember twice a day when we mention the Exodus, always recalling that no matter how low a person has fallen, he or she can always turn around as did the Bnei Yisrael from their lowly state in Egypt where, in a mere seven weeks, they merited seeing the Divine Splendor at Har Sinai.
But, what does the term “Vizroah HaNetuyah” come to convey? This is not simply a study on how to define the words. In the Lesheim Yichud which we say before putting on our tefillin, we state, “Al hayad lezichron zeroa hanetuya,” we put the tefillin on the “Upper arm to remember Hashem’s outstretched arm.” Thus, we see that the meaning of “zeroa netuya” is one of the primary reasons that we are supposed to contemplate daily when wearing the tefillin on our arm. It behooves us, therefore, to research what this phrase is meant to convey.
The Ramban and other Rishonim explain that, once the plagues started, Hashem’s protection over us never ceased. Indeed, even between the major plagues, Hashem peppered the Egyptians with other problems so that they wouldn’t trouble us further. Thus, these commentators are explaining the “zeroa hanetuya” to mean that Hashem, once he started the redemption phase, never put down His arm of protection from over us.
There is a beautiful Chassidic interpretation of the outstretched arm. They explain that this refers to the miracle of Basya’s arm that telescoped four hundred amos as she attempted to retrieve Moshe Rabbeinu in his little ark from the waters of the marsh. This miracle indeed allowed Moshe Rabbeinu to be saved and the redemption to begin. In a similar beautiful fashion, they explain that this is also the intent of what we say in our morning prayers, “Vayar Yisrael es haYad Hagedolah asher assah Hashem b’Mitzrayim – Yisrael saw the big hand which Hashem made in Egypt.” What big hand did Hashem make in Egypt? Now we understand! It refers to Basya’s hand that became greatly enlarged in order to bring the greatest of Jews to the shore and begin the great miracle of the Exodus. What a beautiful thought to have in mind when wearing tefillin each day!
The Medrash HaGadol defines zeroah hanetuya as the miracle of the Red Sea that includes both the devastating end of the nine million Egyptians who drowned there and the miraculous escape of Klal Yisrael through the perilous and tempestuous waters of the Red Sea. This definition fits in very well with the fact that the tefillin refer specifically to the outstretched arm for it is the miracle of the Yam Suf that is the climax of the entire series of miracles of the Exodus. It is only then that we were finally and completely saved from our tormentors of almost two centuries.
But there is much more here than at first meets the eye. Because of what merit did the Red Sea split? The Medrash informs us that initially the Red Sea was reticent to interrupt its natural behavior. In Tehillim, and as we say in Hallel, Dovid HaMelech poses the question, “Mah raah hayam she’yanus – What did the sea see that it fled?” The Medrash answers this with a very short statement. “Nas mipnei haNas – It fled from before the one that fled.” This means that when the sea saw the Jews carrying the coffin of Yosef and saw his power of breaking his nature and not succumbing to the powerful temptations and seductions of the wife of Potifar, it too reacted by going against its nature and splitting its water.
Thus, we see that the miracle of the Yam Suf was achieved through the righteous ability of conquering the temptations of one’s heart. This is exactly the intent that we are taught to have when we put the tefillin upon our arm. As the Lesheim Yichud continues, “Al haYad lezichron zeroa hanetuya, u’kneged haleiv l’shabeid b’zeh taivos u’machashavos libeinu la’avodoso – …And towards the heart to control with it the desires and emotions of our hearts to Hashem’s service.” Thus, it all fits together! The tefillin on the upper biceps recalls Hashem’s outstretched arm at the Red Sea that we earned through Yosef’s moral strength in combating his passions. And this is what we commit ourselves to attempt to emulate when we wear our tefillin daily opposite our heart.
This further fits in beautifully with another Medrash. The posuk says, “Vahamayim lahem chomah, miminom um’smolam – The waters were like a wall on their right and their left.” The Medrash points out that the word chomah is written defectively, without a vav. It therefore can be read “cheimah” which means anger. Therefore, homiletically, this verse conveys the meaning that the waters of the Yam Suf were raging against the Jews in order to drown them for, as the Angel said, they too worship idolatry like the Egyptians. But, the posuk concludes that they were spared because of that which was to their right and to their left. To their right refers to the Torah which Hashem gave from His right hand, and to their left refers to the tefillin which we put upon our left hand.
Thus, we find that the tefillin, which we put on to remember the miracle of the Red Sea, was indeed one of the reasons why we merited the miracle in the first place. The Gemara in Menachos tell us that the posuk, “Hashem Alechem yich’yu,” refers to putting on tefillin.
In the merit of our donning the tefillin and all our other mitzvahs, may we be zoche to good health happiness and everything wonderful.