Shemot – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

Shemot: Sunday: In the Merit of Women

And these are the names (Shmot) of the sons of Israel coming to Egypt”. Jacob and his sons are mentioned by their names. The description of the exile and servitude follow. The next names mentioned in these verses are the names of the midwives: “And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of one was Shifra and the name of the second, Puah.” The names of the men seemingly disappeared into the servitude, and in their place, the names of the righteous women who preserved the existence of the Nation of Israel with self-sacrifice are mentioned.

Pharaoh says to the midwives, “If it is a boy, put him to death, and if it is a girl, she will live.” Pharaoh thought that in order to subjugate Israel, it was enough to kill the males, as it says in the Passover Hagaddah, “Pharaoh decreed only against the males”. He thought that the girls who remained would willingly assimilate with the Egyptians and their culture. But he made a big mistake! It is specifically “In the merit of righteous women, Israel went out of Egypt”, beginning with Shifra and Puah, who refused to obey Pharaoh’s wicked order.

 Pharaoh relied on the saying, “Women’s minds are light”. It is true that in the dimension of Da’at, knowledge, men have a certain advantage over women. But knowledge is not everything. Emunah, faith, is above Da’at. It is manifest in the simple dedication of the woman – more than that of the man. “Our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt only in the merit of the faith that they believed” – in the merit of the women who believe.

There are different opinions as to the identity of Shifra and Puah. Their personal identity is not as important, however, as their self-sacrifice for the continued existence of the entire Nation. They safeguard the “names (shmot) of the sons of Israel” in the exile, as is alluded to in the beautiful gematriah: Shifra (שפרה) plus Puah (פועה) =  Shmot (שמות names)!

Shemot: Monday: The Good Name

And she saw him, that he was good (tov)”. The first thing that we know about Moses is the description, “good”. What was the name that his father and mother gave him? Did they even give him a name? In the Torah, this remains a riddle. The Sages also have differing opinions as to his name. Some say that his name is simply “Tov”, Good”.

Moses is a wondrous new reality in the world. He is a new soul, which appears from the ayin, Divine Nothingness. For this reason, he does not have a defined name at the beginning. Only after he was drawn out of the water, as if he came from a different world, does he receive his name. In other words, a person’s name testifies to his essence and to his particular mission in the world. But there is something more primal, before the name – the primeval root of the soul. This is the “good” of Moses. His essential root that precedes his personal name.

The story of the birth of Moses is the key to the redemption of the Nation of Israel. In order to be redeemed, it is necessary to become renewed – to receive strength from the concealed root that precedes the name. This is the level of “tov” of Moses, from which the redemption begins. The following is written about this ‘good’: “There are three crowns: The crown of Torah and the Crown of priesthood and the crown of kingdom. And the crown of a good name is higher than them all”. This is the lofty level of Moses, which precedes the Crown of Torah that he merited.

In the Bible, there is someone else called “Tov”. In the Scroll of Ruth, it is written, “If Tov will redeem you, he will redeem.” From here we can learn that “Tov” is the name of a redeemer. Moses redeems Israel from Egypt and the soul of Moses returns within the soul of the Mashiach to complete the revelation of goodness, “The first redeemer is the last redeemer”.’

Every Jew has a spark of the soul of Moses. For this reason everyone can and should adopt the characteristic of the “Tov” – to be a good person and have a good heart, to be “Good for the heavens and good for the created beings.” To be a “good Jew” means to reveal the Moses inside us.

“A good Jew,”/ Yehudi Tov יהודי טוב equals Son/Ben/בן in gematria. The Hebrew letters for tov/טוב have six possible combinations (just like any word with three letters). Tov times 6 equals banim (sons), the sons of Israel who are emerging into redemption. In addition, banim/sons – emunah/faith. Everything is in the merit of Emunah.

Shemot: Tuesday: The First Steps of the Redeemer

And Moses matured, and he went out to his brothers and he saw their burdens… and he turned here and there and he saw that there was no man and he smote the Egyptian and he buried him in the sand.” Moses’ act of self-sacrifice for Israel is his first step as the redeemer. This is his maturity, “And Moses matured”.

Our Sages say that Moses killed the Egyptian with the help of G-d’s Ineffable Name. This is not a ‘technical’ use of the Holy Name, but rather an inner revelation of Moses’ soul. The Malbim alludes to this in his explanation of the verse: “And he saw that there was no man” – Moses saw that he, himself, was not to be defined as a man, but rather, was similar to an angel, and with this spiritual power he smote the Egyptian. This is what the Sages alluded to in their explanation that Moses smote the Egyptian with G-d’s Ineffable Name.

Later in this Torah portion, G-d reveals Himself to Moses for the first time, in the vision of the burning bush. “And G-d saw that he turned aside to see and G-d called to him from within the bush, and He said, ‘Moses Moses’ and he said, ‘I am here.’” Our Sages expound: “G-d saw that Moses turned aside from his occupations to see their burdens (that at the start of his path he turned aside to see the burdens of his brothers). Therefore, “And G-d called to him from within the bush”. At that same meeting G-d revealed His Name of redemption, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh” (“I shall be that which I shall be”), to Moses.

This is alluded to wondrously at the beginning of Moses’ path to leadership: The first part of the verse “And he turned here and there and he saw that there was no man” in Hebrew has 21 letters (until the etnachta pause sign in the verse). The second half of this verse, “and he smote the Egyptian and he buried him in the sand” also has 21 letters in Hebrew. 21 is the numerical value of Ehyeh. 2 times 21 is the secret of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh!

Moreover, the Kabbalists say that Moses smote the Egyptian with the Holy Name of 42 letters (that is known in the first letters of the Ana B’koachprayer), Ehyeh and another Ehyeh. Here we see that concealed within the first act of Moses is the secret of the redemption.

Shemot: Wednesday: Moses Moses

And G-d called to him from within the bush”. The burning bush alludes to the Nation of Israel suffering hardship. G-d is also with them, as in the verse, “I am with him in hardship”. In Hebrew, the word for ‘bush’ is sneh/סנה. If we re-arrange the letters of sneh, they spell ha-nes, the miracle. The existence of the Nation of Israel in the exile and servitude is miraculous – one lone sheep surviving among seventy wolves. “The bush is burning with fire and the bush is not consumed”.

G-d calls to Moses from within the bush, “And He said, ‘Moses Moses’ and he said ‘I am here’”. The names of Abraham, Jacob and Samuel also appear twice consecutively in the Bible, but in those cases, there is a Torah cantillation note (a pasek) that separates between the two names (For example, Abraham – pasek – Abraham). Only Moses’ name is doubled in succession with nothing in-between. One of the explanations for this is in the Midrash, which explains with the following allegory: “It is like a man upon whom a massive object has  fallen and he calls in a loud voice, ‘Mister, Mister, you who are close to me, remove this object from upon me’”. So G-d says: Moses Moses, come quickly to help Me! See how everything here is burning, a horrible fire is searing my beloved children and their pain is My pain.

True, G-d is All Powerful and He provides Israel’s existence miraculously, but here in the World of Action, “We do not rely on miracles”. G-d does not rely on His own miracles, either. Instead, He expects us to help Him. If a fire is burning, we must not sit around as if nothing is happening. Instead, we must rise to the occasion, enlist to help and say, “I am here”.

G-d’s Immanent Presence, the Shechinah within the bush teaches us that the trait of Rachamim, Compassion, means complete identification with the other. This is exactly what Moses does. He leaves his individual self behind and completely enters into the other. That is why he is the true leader, “For He that has compassion on them will lead them”.

Shemot: Thursday: Moses and Aharon

And he will speak for you to the Nation, and he will be for you a mouth and you will be for him a leader.”  “There is one leader (dabar) in a generation and there are not two leaders (dabarim) in a generation.” A body has one head – not two. But in our Torah portion, G-d appends Aharon to Moses, installing two leaders for the generation. Clearly, however, Moses is at the head and Aharon is the “number two”. Moses is the Rabbi and Aharon ‘translates’ his words for the Nation. Aharon does this with joy in his heart, “And he will see you and he will be joyous in his heart”.

Moses represents uncompromising, absolute Divine truth, as he calls with zealousness after the Sin of the Golden Calf, “Whoever is with G-d, come to me”. Aharon, on the other hand, “loves peace and pursues peace.” He even knows how to alter the truth to achieve peace.

According to the truth that comes from Above, there should be only one leader. Thus, initially, it was difficult for Moses to accept the idea of two leaders. Rashi on the words, “And he will see you and he will be joyous in his heart,” explains: “Not as you think, that he will be displeased with you for ascending to greatness”. Moses thinks that Aharon will be displeased because there can only be one leader – either, or. But Aharon originates the very reality of two leaders – because there is another, deep truth that is down below, within reality/the receiver.

Moses is the “father figure”, the head of the family, while Aharon is the “mother figure”. In Hebrew, the name Aharon, אהרון shares many letters withהריון/herayon, which means ‘pregnancy’. Aharon’s heart has room for everybody. He wraps them in maternal warmth. In Hebrew, the first letters of Moses משה and Aharon אהרון mem and alef, spell em אם ‘mother’. Joining them together adds the mother figure to the father figure. There are additional pairs of Jewish leaders whose names also begin with alef and mem: Esther אסתר and Mordechai מרדכי, Eliyahu אליהו  and Mashiach משיח .

In Chassidic terms, Moshe is the Rebbe. There is only one Rebbe: The person who relays G-d’s words and infuses us with nullification in the face of G-d’s Majesty and Oneness.  Aharon is the mashpia, the mentor – another model figure vital to everyone, a person who guides others in the path of the Rebbe.

Shemot: Friday: On the Donkey

And Moses took his wife and his sons and he put them to ride on the donkey and he returned to the land of Egypt.” Rashi brings a wondrous Midrash on this verse: On the donkey – the unique donkey. This is the donkey that Abraham saddled for the Binding of Isaac and it is the donkey upon which the King Mashiach will be revealed, as it says, “Poor and riding on a donkey”.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that there is a difference between the three instances: Abraham put the wood for the sacrifice on the donkey. Moses put his wife and sons on the donkey and the Mashiach himself rides on the donkey. The Hebrew word for ‘donkey’, chamor, is spelled with the same letters as the word for ‘physical material’, chomer, also referring to the physical body.

With Abraham, before the giving of the Torah, the physical world could only assist in the fulfillment of a commandment. With Moses, the level of the giving of the Torah was revealed, with holiness permeating physical objects. Thus, the donkey/physicality carries his wife and children. Our Sages teach that a person’s wife is like his own body. Nevertheless, these are the lower part of Moses, not Moses himself. The Mashiach himself, however, rides on the donkey. He reveals that the essence of the soul ascends and becomes loftier by virtue of the physical body.

This process also applies to the relationship between husband and wife (the wife is like the ‘body’ of the husband). Moses does take his wife Tzipporah with him, but later, he sends her back to Midyan. Ultimately, he completely separates from his wife so that he can be ready at any time to receive prophecy. Mashiach, however, will not separate from his wife. His wife experiences all the momentous events together with him. Together with her, the Mashiach reaches his lofty level. Thus, in our generation, as we prepare for Mashiach, a couple’s relationship must be continuously built on partnership and full identification with each other.

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