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The Torah does not describe for us in any form whatsoever as to what happened to the family of Yaakov – who are now the people of Israel, and suddenly very numerous and at one time very influential and comfortable in Egyptian society – in the years between the death of Yosef and the enslavement of the Jews many decades later. The Torah is not here to give us a narrative of interesting historical facts and, as it did in the book of Bereshith, it skips over decades and even centuries without giving us any in-depth description. But Midrash does attempt to somehow fill that void and portrays for us on one hand a people who attempted to remain separate and unique from the Egyptian majority…

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ONCE UPON A CHASID: Empty Threat? (Shemot)
Empty Threat?
Tevet 16, 5774 · December 19, 2013

Do you say to kill me..?! (2:14)

Speaking negatively of another kills three: the speaker, the one who listens, and the one who is spoken of …

– The Talmud, Erchin 15b.

Two Mezhebuzh citizens were involved in a bitter dispute. Once, while they were angrily having it out in the local synagogue, one shouted at the other: “I will tear you apart like a fish!”

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, who was in the synagogue at the time, told his disciples to form a circle, each taking the hand of his neighbor, and to close their eyes. The Baal Shem Tov himself closed the circle by placing his holy hands upon the shoulders of the two disciples who stood nearest to him. Suddenly, the disciples cried out in fright: they saw the angry man actually ripping his fellow apart, just as he had threatened!

No potential ever remains unrealized. A person’s every act, word, and even thought has an effect. At times, the effect is concrete and tangible; at times, is is more subtle and can be discerned only a finer, more spiritual eye.

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Yanki Tauber is content editor of

CHASSIDIC DIMENSION: Children — Large and Small (Shemot)
Tevet 16, 5774 · December 19, 2013
Children — Large and SmallThe first time the Jewish people are referred to as “G-d’s children” is in the Torah portion of Shmos , where the verse states: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”1 The term “firstborn,” as Rashi explains,2 denotes maturity.

In many other instances, however, we find that Jews are considered G-d’s children because of their extreme youthfulness. Thus we find the verse,3 “For Israel is but a lad and [therefore] I love him.” This is further explained by our Sages, who offer the parable of a king who had many children, but loved the youngest most of all.4

Since the love for a young child is more palpable than the love for an older one, why does the verse in Shmos imply that Jews are older children?

What, exactly, causes a parent to manifest a greater degree of love for a young child than for an older one?

An older child, who has already matured intellectually and emotionally, will not always be loved by his parents merely because he is their child. The parents may also come to love the older child because of his wisdom or fine character. This kind of love is grounded in logic.

The love of a parent for a very young child, however, is an elemental love — one that transcends reason — since an extremely young child does not display any particular qualities for which he should be loved; the love that emanates from parents to young children derives entirely from the fact that the parents and the child are essentially one.

The love for a grown child, although also an essential love, is intermingled with feelings that have a basis in logic. This logical foundation conceals the elemental love between parent and child.

Just as this is so regarding the love of human parents, so too with regard to G-d’s love for His children, the Jewish people. Here too, there exist two manners and degrees:

When Jews serve G-d and thus reveal their sterling qualities, His ever-present love for us is mingled with a love dictated by logic — similar to the love felt by parents for an older child.

However, G-d also shows His elemental love for the Jewish people — a love that springs from the fact that every Jew is “truly a part of G-d above.”5 This love — similar to that felt by parents for a very small child — does not depend at all on the quality of the Jews’ spiritual service.

This elemental love is revealed when Jews serve G-d in the manner of a small child; when they feel small and humble in G-d’s presence, and obey Him as a small child obeys his parents — out of a sense of inherent loyalty, even when they fail to understand G-d’s reasoning.

This, however, does not mean to imply that when Jews serve G-d intellectually and emotionally His intrinsic love for them is not revealed, for a Jew’s intellectual and spiritual state is intricately connected to his degree of self-nullification.

A Jew realizes the necessity of intellectual toil to understand Torah, and that his emotions must be permeated with enjoyment of Torah and mitzvos. This realization is a direct result of the fact that such enjoyment is G-d’s desire.6

The reason the verse states “Israel is My son, My firstborn ” will be understood accordingly:

When seeking to indicate G-d’s essential love for the Jewish people in and of itself , the metaphor used is that of a very small child, for in that instance the elemental love is felt naturally.

When, however, one seeks to convey the essential qualities of the Jewish people, then the term “Israel is My son, My firstborn ” is used, for it indicates that the Jews’ essentially childlike nature permeates even their intellect and emotions.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXI, pp. 20-26.

Counting by Name

The Torah portion Shmos begins by saying:7 “And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt….” Rashi comments:8 “Although He counted them by name while they were alive, He counted them again after their passing in order to make known (and demonstrate) his love for them; for they are likened to the stars, which He takes out and brings in by their numbers and names….

If Rashi simply desired to prove that something loved is counted by number as well as by name, he would have simply stated that they are “like the stars which He takes out and brings in by number and name.” Rashi’s statement, “for they are likened to the stars,” serves to imply that because the children of Israel possess the same quality as the stars, they are therefore counted in a like manner.

What is this “star” quality?

Although love of something is evinced through counting as well as through naming, counting and calling by name emphasize two different aspects of that which is being counted or called:

Counting emphasizes the commonalty of things — wholly disparate entities cannot be included in the same count. A name, on the other hand, emphasizes the individuality of each thing.

Rashi indicates this when he states “for they are likened to the stars,” for stars possess both these aspects. On the one hand, they all share the fact of star-hood, and are counted precisely because each star is important. On the other hand, each star possesses unique qualities, for which reason each has it own name.

Each Jew, who is “likened to the stars,” shares the essential quality of Jewishness, and is “truly part of G-d above.”9 In addition, each possesses qualities unique to the individual.

G-d’s love for the Jewish people thus finds expression in two ways: By counting them He manifests His love for their essential Jewishness, and by calling each by name He demonstrates His love for the unique qualities of each and every one.

However, when G-d desired to show love for individual Jews, He could have done so in any number of ways. Why did He specifically choose to count them by name?

G-d’s intrinsic love for the Jewish people serves as the template for all parental love.10With human parents also, we find that mentioning a child’s name arouses a degree of love that cannot be elicited by other means, such as by giving the child a gift, showering him with words of love, or even hugging and kissing him.

Giving a child a gift or loving words depends on the child’s age: If a parent gives his grown son or daughter a gift fit for a very young child, then rather than it being seen as an expression of love it may be taken in the opposite way. Words of love, too, must be geared to the individual child’s level.

Since gifts and loving talk must be tailored to the age and comprehension of each child, it is clear that love manifested through these vehicles is limited. It thus cannot be an elemental love for the essence of the child, since elemental love is not limited by the child’s intellect, maturity, etc.

Even hugs and kisses, which can be given to both younger and older children, are limited, for they can only be bestowed when the recipient is close at hand. Essential love is not limited by time or space.

The only evocation of love that is truly unlimited is the mentioning of a child’s name: it matters not whether the child is young or old, near or far, bright or dim, etc.

Thus, when G-d desired to show His essential love for the Jewish people, He “counted them by name. ”

Compiled from Likkutei Sichos , Vol. VI, pp. 1-10.

1. Shmos 4:22.
2. Ibid.
3. Hosheah 11:1; See at length Or HaTorah, Beshallach p. 382ff; Ki Na’ar Yisrael ,5666, Sefer HaMa’amarim 5678 p. 159ff.
4. Devarim Rabbah 5:7.
5. Tanya , beginning of ch. 2.
6. Cf. Tanya ch. 38 (p. 50b and onward).
7. Shmos 1:1.
8. Ibid.
9. Tanya ch. 2,
10. See discourses titled Atta Echad 5702, 5729.
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

GARDEN OF TORAH: Challenge, Growth, and Transition (Shemot)
Tevet 16, 5774 · December 19, 2013
Challenge, Growth, and Transition
Shmos; Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, 843ff; Vol. XVI, p. 36ff;
Vol. XXVI, p. 301ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 240ff

Confronting Challenge

On one hand, people shy away from challenges. There is a danger of failure were there not, it would not be a challenge and no one likes to fail. On the other hand, we seek challenge, for confronting a challenge lifts us out of the doldrums of ordinary experience.

Similar concepts apply with regard to our Divine service. G-d does not want our Divine service to be merely routine. And so, He presents us with challenges. Some of these challenges are limited in scope, and some are more daunting, forcing us to summon up our deepest resources.

This is the nature of the challenge of exile. During the Era of the Beis HaMikdash, the open revelation of G-dliness inspired Jews to serve G-d with heightened feeling and intent. In the era of exile, by contrast, G-dliness is hidden, and we are presented with many obstacles to our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. We can no longer rely on our environment to deepen our feeling for G-dliness. Instead, our focus must become internal. In this manner, exile arouses our deepest spiritual resources,1 and strengthens our connection to G-d.

The Paradox of Exile

These concepts are reflected in our Torah reading, which describes the successive descents experienced by the Jewish people in Egypt. As long as Yosef and his brothers lived, the Jews enjoyed prosperity and security. But with the death of the last of Yaakov’s sons came forced labor,2 the casting of Jewish infants into the Nile, and other acts of cruelty. Even after Moshe brought the promise of redemption, the oppression of the Jewish people worsened, to the extent that Moshe himself cried out:3 “Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people.”

Nevertheless, the Torah reading also tells how the Jews cried out to G-d, awakening His attention.4 In response, G-d conveyed the promise of Redemption and His pledge that, “when you take this people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain,”5 i.e., G-d committed Himself to give the Jews the Torah. This revealed the possibility of a higher and deeper bond with G-d than could have been reached before.

The Story of a Name

These two polarities are reflected in the name of the reading, Shmos, which means “names.” There are two dimensions to a person’s name. On one hand, it represents the external aspects of one’s being, as apparent from the fact that a person’s name is necessary only insomuch as he relates to others. For himself, he does not require a name. Moreover, several individuals with totally different personalities can share the same name, demonstrating that, on the surface at least, a person’s name does not describe who he or she is.6

Nevertheless, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya,7 a name represents an entity’s nature and life-force. It is a channel that allows this inner nature to be expressed.8This is not merely a theoretical concept; it affects a person’s day-to-day conduct. We see that when a person is called by name, he turns to the caller with attention. For many people, no sound is dearer than that of their own name. Moreover, we find that when a person faints, it is often possible to rouse him by merely whispering his name in his ear.

To relate these observations to the concepts of exile and redemption: As long as what is revealed is merely the external dimension of the Jews’ name, it is possible for them to be subjugated by worldly powers. But when the essence of the Jews’ name, Yisrael, is expressed, there is no potential for exile. For the name Yisrael indicates that we “contended with G-d and with men and prevailed.”9

This points to the fundamental difference between exile and redemption. For exile does not represent a change in the essence of our relationship with G-d. From His perspective, even in exile we are “[His] children, and to change [us] for another nation, [He] cannot.”10 And with regard to the Jewish people, on the verse,11 “I am asleep, but my heart is awake,” our Sages comment:12 “Although I am sleeping in exile, my heart is awake for the Holy One, blessed be He.”

What is the difference between exile and redemption? Whether “our name is being called” and we are responding, i.e., whether this relationship is openly expressed or concealed.13

Destiny and Direction

There is nothing random about the cycle of exile and redemption; it is a Divinely ordained process. G-d desired that the Jews reach higher peaks of Divine service, and so He structured the challenges of exile to compel us to express our deepest spiritual potential. And He gave us the ability to overcome these challenges.

This is alluded to in the Torah’s mention of the names of the tribes at the beginning of the reading. Our Sages explain14 that this is an example of how deeply G-d cherishes our people. “Since they are like stars, He called each of them by name.”

In Torah law,15 we find the principle: “An important entity can never be nullified.” By repeating the names of the Jewish people,16 the Torah emphasizes how important they are to G-d, and ensures that their existence will not by nullified by exile.

The Torah mentions, not the name of our people as a whole, but rather the names of each of the tribes, for each tribe represents a different approach to Divine service. In doing so, it endows not only the essence of the Jewish people, but also our various individual approaches, with the strength to endure exile, and grow through this experience.

From Exile to Redemption

The cycle of Jewish exile and redemption is significant for the world at large. The purpose of creation is to establish a dwelling for G-d.17 This dwelling is fashioned by the involvement of the Jewish people in different aspects of worldly experience. During exile, the Jews are scattered into different lands and brought into contact with diverse cultures. As such, as the challenge of exile brings the Jews to a deeper connection with G-d, it also elevates their surroundings, making manifest the G-dliness which permeates our world.

The saga of exile and redemption is not merely a story of the past. On the contrary, heralds of the final transition from exile and redemption are affecting all dimensions of existence today. To borrow an expression from the Previous Rebbe:18 “Everything is ready for the Redemption; even the buttons have been polished.” All that is necessary is that we open our eyes, recognize Mashiach’s influence, and create a means for it to encompass mankind.19

1. More specifically, the reference is to the level of yechidah, the dimension of soul which is absolutely one with G-d. This level is revealed through the challenges of exile.
2. See Shmos Rabbah 1:4. Rashi’s notes to Exodus 6:16.
3. Exodus 5:23.
4. Ibid. 2:23-24.
5. Ibid. 3:12.
6. And yet a person with insight can see how an individual’s name tells volumes about his character. In that vein, Yoma 83b relates that Rabbi Meir could deduce a person’s character from his name.
7. Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1.
8. Likkutei Torah, Behar 41c.
9. Genesis 32:29.
10. Kiddushin 36a; Rus Rabbah, Pesichta 3; see also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 3 and sources cited there.
11. Song of Songs 5:2.
12. Zohar, Vol. III, p. 95a; see Shir HaShirim Rabbah on the verse.
13. This concept also gives us insight into the nature of redemption: redemption does not require the creation of anything new, but the revelation of a potential which already exists.Similarly, this idea points to the manner in which we can endeavor to bring this potential into expression by all Jews. What is necessary is to call the person by his name Yisrael, and to give him an opportunity to reveal who he is. Since he is a Jew and by nature “desires to fulfill all the mitzvos and separate himself from sin” (Rambam, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20), he will respond, expressing his inner nature.
14. Shmos Rabbah 1:3 (quoted by Rashi in his commentary to Exodus 1:1) explains why the names of the tribes are repeated in this Torah reading after having been mentioned in the Book of Genesis.
15. Zevachim 73a, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 110:1.
16. See also Pe’ah 7:1 (and Rambam, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 5:23), which states that no entity with a name is ever considered forgotten. The fact that its owner gave it a name indicates its constant importance in his eyes.
17. Midrash Tanchuma, Bechukosai, sec. 3. See Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.
18. Sichos Simchas Torah, 5689.
19. Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992), p. 112-113.
By Eli Touger    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

PARSHAH PICKS: Leadership and the People (Shemot)
Tevet 15, 5774 · December 18, 2013
General Overview:
This week’s Torah reading, Shemot, begins the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh issues harsh decrees against the Israelites, beginning decades of Jewish suffering and slavery. Moses is born and raised in the Egyptian royal palace. After killing an Egyptian, Moses escapes to Midian and marries. G‑d appears to him in a burning bush and demands that he return to Egypt to redeem the Israelites. Moses returns to Egypt with the intention of freeing the Jewish people.
This Week’s Features Printable Parshah Magazine

By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Exodus 1:1–6:1

Pharaoh enslaves the Hebrews, and orders all male babies killed. Moses is born, placed in a basket on the Nile, and discovered and raised by Batyah, Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses leaves the palace and discovers his brethren’s hardship. G‑d appears to him in a burning bush, and sends him to advocate for the Israelites’ freedom.


A bush is on fire but it is not consumed. A nation is killed time and time again — but it does not die…

By Shimon Posner

You feel the pain and bitterness, even more deeply than the others, yet you carry in your heart an inextinguishable flame of faith, hope and optimism. You are Miriam, the quintessential Jewish woman

By Chana Weisberg
By Tali Loewenthal

Parshah Shemot

“Think good and it will be good” is not just a feel-good slogan. It means that by trusting in G-d, we actually elicit His help from on High. Find out what happened when Moses doubted if he was deserving of G-d’s help. (Based on Likutei Sichos volume 36, Sicha 1.)

By Moishe New
Watch Watch (45:00)

How to Study Torah – Shemot

When G-d charges Moses with the task of leading the Jews out of Egypt, Moses asks G-d what His name is and G-d responds, “I will be what I will be.” How does this cryptic answer help us understand the problem of evil and suffering?

By Mendel Kaplan
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Letters and Numbers of Torah – Shemot

When G-d shows Moses a sign by having him turn a staff into a snake, G-d asks Moses, (Exodus 4:2) “What is this in your hand?” But the two words, “mah zeh” (“what is this”) are spelled in the Torah as one word, “mizeh” (“from this.”) How does the term “mizeh” hint to the Alter Rebbe and Maimonides whose yahrzeits are this week?

Aaron L. Raskin
Watch Watch (25:00)

What is the connection between Shemot – ‘Names’ and the rest of the book of Shemot?

By Moishe New
Download Download   Listen Listen (10:25)

A five minute weekly Torah thought based on the teachings of Chassidut.

By Berel Bell
Download Download   Listen Listen (5:17)

FOR FRIDAY NIGHT: The Power of Invention (Shemot)
Tevet 16, 5774 · December 19, 2013
The Power of Invention

Humanity has the ability to select beautiful pieces of nature and arrange them in a pleasing way. We also have the power to create new things which do not occur naturally: we discover fresh possibilities, and develop them into something which has never existed before.

Both these faculties are important. However, it is our power of invention and discovery which has led to the fascinating technology with which we live. It is our power of invention which has created the modern world.

How do these two faculties relate to the Torah? Is the Torah trying to push us back to the simplicity of the past, or forwards to the discoveries of the future?

A discussion of the Parshah by the Lubavitcher Rebbe throws light on this question.

One of the themes in our Parshah concerns bricks. The Jewish slaves had to make bricks. They mixed straw and clay, formed the mixture into blocks of the right shape and heated them in a kiln.1 With the resulting bricks they built store cities for Pharaoh.

A serious moment in the Parshah is when Pharaoh tells the Jews he will no longer supply them with straw for the bricks. They will have to gather it themselves.

Now, the brick making technology described above might sound very primitive, straight out of the British Museum. True. However, the point is that it was a “technology.” People had discovered, through human thought, creativity and inventiveness, that this was a way to obtain strong bricks. It was a completely different approach from building with natural rock cut to size. How does this tell us anything about us? Isn’t this just describing a detail of ancient history, the slavery of the Jews in Egypt?

The Chassidic way of understanding the Torah is that as well as telling us our national history, it is also describing our own personal lives. We too may find ourselves in a kind of spiritual slavery, in which we use our personal powers of creativity and invention for our “Egyptian” taskmasters. In other words, we use these powers for purely material purposes, perhaps even, for selfish purposes. Metaphorically, we use this power to build “store-cities for Pharaoh.”

Personal redemption from Egypt means that this human power of invention is redeemed from slavery. It is devoted to unselfish goals, and even more, to spiritual goals. Our power of invention is used as a way to serve G-d. In the imagery of the Torah, when redeemed we make bricks not for Pharaoh’s store cities but in order to build “the city of G-d.”

This helps us understand the Jewish concept of Redemption. It is not only a matter of passively recognizing the G-dliness which is hidden in nature. It means also utilizing to the full our human powers of creativity, our ability to make something new in order to express the Glory of G-d.2

1. There is more information about making bricks in the account of the attempt to build the Tower of Babel, Genesis 11:3.
2. Based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Likkutei Sichot, vol. 6 pp.14- 25.
By Tali Loewenthal    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Dr. Tali Loewenthal is Lecturer in Jewish Spirituality at University College London, director of the Chabad Research Unit, and author of Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School.

Tevet 15, 5774 · December 18, 2013

In this Sidra, when G-d asks Moses to undertake the mission of redeeming the Israelites from Egypt, Moses replies, “Send, I pray You, by the hand of whom You will send.” The Midrash interprets this to be a plea for the Messiah to be sent in his place. What is the connection between Moses and the Messiah—the past and future redeemers? And what is the difference between them, that each was given a separate mission? The Rebbe answers these questions, and explains their significance in the life of the individual Jew.

1. The Two Redeemers

After G-d has repeatedly asked Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Jewish people out of their captivity, Moses finally says,1 “Send, I pray You, by the hand of whom You will send.” The Midrash2 says on this verse, “(Moses) said before Him, ‘Master of the Universe, send, I pray You, by the hand of whom You will send’—by the hand of the Messiah who will be the future redeemer.” But this request of Moses was not granted, for it was he, specifically, whom G-d wanted to deliver Israel from Egypt.

It can be inferred from the Midrash that there is a special connection between Moses and the Messiah, and it was because of this that Moses wanted the Messiah himself to be sent to Egypt. Nonetheless, the redemption from Egypt was the task of Moses; the mission of the Messiah belongs to the final exile.

The similarity which they share (in virtue of which they have been given similar tasks—redemption from exile) is indicated in the Rabbinic saying:3 “Moses was the first and he will be the last redeemer.” This does not mean that Moses in person will be the Messiah (since he was a Levite, and the Messiah, who will be a descendant of David,4will be from the tribe of Judah); but rather that the redemptive power of the Messiah will be drawn from Moses.

The reason is that the first and major virtue of the Messiah will be Torah (according to Rambam,5 he will be steeped in it); from this, his redemptive strength will be drawn; and the Torah is called “the Torah of Moses.”6 Likewise, the power of Israel to bring the Messiah derives from the service articulated in the Torah.

This inner connection between Moses and the Messiah is alluded to in the verse7“And the scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh come (ad ki-yavo Shilo).” This is taken to refer to the Messiah, because the words “yavo Shiloh” and “Mashiach” (“Shiloh come” and “Messiah”) are numerically equivalent.8 The same equivalence also applies to the words “Shiloh” and “Moses” so that the coming of the Messiah is related to Moses. In addition, “yavo” (“come”) has the same numerical value as “echad” (“one”). Thus we can state the equivalence: “Messiah = Moses + One,” and its meaning is that the Messiah will be brought by service which has the attribute of “Oneness”; and the power to achieve this is transmitted through Moses.9

2. Descent For the Sake of Ascent

How are we to understand this?

The Rabbis said: When the world was created, everything was in a state of perfection.10 But after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, when the serpent infected Eve with impurity,11 man and the world fell from perfection until the Giving of the Torah; for when Israel were at Mt. Sinai the “spirit of impurity” departed.12 But it returned with the sin of the Golden Calf,13 and it remains in the world until the Messianic Age when the promise will be fulfilled to remove (utterly destroy) impurity;14 and the world will be ultimately purified and cleansed.

It is a general principle in Judaism that every fall is for the sake of some ascent;15 and subsequent ascent is higher than the state before the fall. Hence the state ushered in by the Giving of the Torah was higher than that which preceded Eve’s sin. And by implication the Messianic Age will be superior to the time of the Giving of the Torah.

A twofold movement creates this achievement of hitherto unreached heights: A descent of light (revelation, spiritual power) from its source in the infinite; and a corresponding ascent of Israel and the world.

We find this in the Giving of the Torah. Even though the strength to fulfill Divine commandments preceded it (Adam had 6 commandments, Noah 7, extra ones were given to each of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,16 and the Fathers kept the whole Torah before it was given17), not only was greater strength given at the time of the Giving of the Torah, but a new power, different in kind from all that had existed before, was given to Israel when the relation of chosenness between them and G-d began (“and You have chosen us”18). This was a revelation of G-d’s essence; something that had not been disclosed in revelation before.

Likewise, the elevation of Israel and the world was unprecedented—in the inwardness and intensity of their purification. Hence their subsequent degradation, in committing the sin of the Golden Calf, was not so great. Thus, although its effects (the presence of impurity) remain visible today, still, the effects of the Giving of the Torah are evident.

3. The Messianic Age

In a similar way, the elevation that will belong to the Messianic Age—when the Messiah will teach his Torah to all Israel19—will be correspondingly greater than that of the Giving of the Torah;20 and this in two ways:

(i) In the Divine revelation. For though at Sinai it was so intense that they could see it with their physical senses, it was only like the Messianic revelation21 (when “the Glory of the L-rd will be revealed”)22 and not equal to it.

(ii) In the elevation of Israel. Whereas at Sinai the spirit of impurity departed, it remained in potential and reappeared with the sin of the Golden Calf. But in the Messianic time it will be destroyed and consumed forever. The whole essential nature of the world itself will be changed; not temporarily altered by specific Divine intervention from Above.

4. The Task of Exile

Since every elevation must be preceded by a fall, the fall is a necessary preparation for it. It is the service in the time of the fall (while its effects persist) which brings about the elevation. The service of the Fathers, and the catharsis of the “iron furnace”23 of Egypt, brought the Giving of the Torah. And likewise, the Messiah will be brought by our continual service in exile to purify the whole essence of the world.24

5. The Meaning of “One”

This can be understood by first understanding a well-known difficulty25 about the Shema. Why does it say, “the L-rd is One” and not “the L-rd is unique?” For “one” is an attribute of a countable thing; it is compatible with a second. But “unique” rules out the possibility of another.

The explanation is this: The true Oneness of G-d is not perceived merely by denying at the outset the existence of anything besides Him (“uniqueness”—world-denying attitude); but rather by perceiving in the midst of the physical world that it has no existence in itself, by feeling in the context of a worldly existence that it is in one with (united with) G-d.

The word “one” itself suggests this. Its letters in Hebrew (echad: alef, chet, daled) have the numerical values, 1, 8, 4.
8 symbolizes, as it were, the seven heavens and the earth, and 4, the four directions. All these are emanations from 1 (alef) the Source and Master (aluf) of the world.26 In other words, the perception of Oneness must not be a spiritual one alone, but one which permeates one’s whole view of the physical world and is realized in it.

6. Torah and the Transformation of the World

But how can it be that this world whose nature is (and whose name in Hebrew means) the “concealment”27 of G-dliness, should be receptive to a revelation within it of the Aluf (Master, One) of the universe?

For this purpose, to make the world a fit dwelling-place for G-d, Israel was given the Torah and the commandments.

At Sinai, it was not merely that they were given so that through them the world should be purified and refined; but also the accompanying revelation transmitted the power by which this could be done.

At the moment when the Torah was given, the whole world was entirely nullified in the face of the revelation—even “the birds did not sing and the earth was silent”28—but this was a force from above rather than from within (and hence it was not a permanent state).

Butfrom this was derived the world’s power to become refined itself, and hence become a fitting receptacle for a yet higher revelation.

7. Moses and the Messiah

Now we can understand why the Messiah = Moses + One. For the Messiah will be brought by the service which makes the Oneness manifest, and the power to do this was given through the hand of Moses.

Hence the inner connection between Moses and the Messiah: The latter will be brought by powers transmitted through the former. And hence also their difference: The exile to and liberation from Egypt was for the sake of the Giving of the Torah,29 and this was to give Israel the power to purify themselves and the world. The task of the Messiah is to complete this process, and to innovate the subsequent service, when the purity of the world is complete.

8. “Oneness” and the Individual

Man is a microcosm of the world.30 And this cosmic process finds its echo in every man at all times: When he works and performs his service until evening; and entrusts his soul to G-d at night; and next day is made new again,31 and begins a new service.

The service of the day begins with prayer and Torah. Through them a man receives the strength to serve (the G-dly spirit is diffused through his whole being by prayer) and to overcome the inclination to evil (through Torah which instructs him in the right course of action). Then he is able to enact this service in the practical world (to the extent that, as Rambam says,32 “his wisdom is manifest in his eating and drinking”). His worldly existence (the chet and daled of echad) is subordinated to his Divine wisdom (alef); a recognition of Oneness permeates his physical actions.

Then, when his day of service is over, he makes a spiritual reckoning of his day’s actions and rededicates his task to G-d. He says, “Into Your hands I entrust my soul… G-d of Truth,” and Truth itself is Oneness. For the Hebrew word for truth is emet—the first, middle and last letters of the alef bet,33 reminding us that G-d is He who has said, “I am the First and I am the Last, and besides Me there is no god.”34 There is no reality which does not emanate from Him, for when the alef (the One) is removed from emet, the word becomes met, “death,” the absence of life.35

Just as the Torah (through the hand of Moses) gives the world the power to bring the Messiah, so it gives each and every individual the power to refine his own life and environment, and so hasten the Messianic Age.36

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. XI pp. 8-13)

1. Shemot 4:13.
2. Lekach Tov.
3. Cf. Shemot Rabbah, 2:4. Zohar, Part I, 253a.
4. Rambam, Hilchot Melachim, end of ch. 11.
5. Ibid.
6. Malachi 3:22. Cf. Shabbat, 89a.
7. Bereishit 49:10.
8. Baal Haturim on Bereishit, Ibid. Cf. supra, p. 2 and note 5.
9. Cf. Tanya, Part I, beg. of ch. 42.
10. Cf. Bereishit Rabbah, 14:7; 3:3.
11. Shabbat, 146a.
12. Ibid. Zohar, Part I, 52b; Part II, 193b.
13. Zohar, Ibid. Cf. Tanya, Part I, end of ch. 36.
14. Zechariah 13:2.
15. Cf. supra, pp. 11 ff.
16. Rambam, Hilchot Melachim, 9:1.
17. Yoma, 28b; Kiddushin, 82a.
18. Cf. Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim, 60:4.
19. Likkutei Torah, Tzav, 17a. Shaar Hoemunah, ch. 56.
20. Cf. Kohelet Rabbah, end of ch. 11 and beg. of ch. 2.
21. Tanya, Part I, ch. 36.
22. Isaiah 40:5.
23. I Kings 8:51.
24. Tanya, Part I, beg. of ch. 37.
25. Cf. Torah Or, Vaera, 55b.
26. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, ch. 61. Cf. Berachot, 13b.
27. Olam—he-elam.
28. Shemot Rabbah, end of ch. 29.
29. Shemot 3:12.
30. Tanchuma, Pekudei, 3.
31. Yalkut Shimoni, Remez, 702.
32. Hilchot Deot, 5:1.
33. Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, 1:1. Cf. Devarim Rabbah, 1:10.
34. Isaiah 44:6.
35. Maharsha, Sanhedrin, 97a.
36. Cf. Tanya, Part IV, 4.
Adapted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks; From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

WEEKLY ALIYOT: Parshat Shemot
Tevet 15, 5774 · December 18, 2013
Shemot Aliya Summary

General Overview: This week’s Torah reading, Shemot, begins the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh issues harsh decrees against the Israelites, beginning decades of Jewish suffering and slavery. Moses is born and raised in the Egyptian royal palace. After killing an Egyptian, Moses escapes to Midian and marries. G‑d appears to him in a burning bush and demands that he return to Egypt to redeem the Israelites. Moses returns to Egypt with the intention of freeing the Jewish people.

First Aliyah: Jacob’s sons all died. Jacob’s descendents in Egypt, however, were “fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong.” A new Pharaoh arose, and he resolved to find a solution to the “Israelite problem.” He proposed to afflict the Israelites and impose slave labor upon them, thus preventing them from multiplying. He implemented the plan, and the Israelites were forced to construct storage cities for Pharaoh. “But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength.” Pharaoh then summoned the Hebrew midwives and instructed them to kill all the Hebrew sons that they delivered. The righteous midwives feared G‑d, however, and defied Pharaohs order.

Second Aliyah: Pharaoh called the midwives to task for not following orders. They answered that the Hebrew women were skilled in midwifery and delivered their babies before they even arrived. G‑d rewarded the midwives for their bravery. Pharaoh then commanded the Egyptians to cast all newborn male Israelites into the Nile. Moses was born. His mother, who feared for her baby’s life, put him into a waterproofed basket and set him afloat in the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe, and took the child as her own. Moses’ sister Miriam, who observed the entire episode, offered to bring a Hebrew nursemaid for the child, and when Pharaoh’s daughter agreed to the suggestion, Miriam called the child’s mother. Moses’ mother nursed the child and after he was weaned brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter.

Third Aliyah: Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. When he matured, he went out one day and saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew. Moses slew the Egyptian. Word of his deed reached Pharaoh, and Moses was compelled to flee. He escaped to Midian where he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro. They gave birth to a son, Gershom. Back in Egypt, meanwhile, the plight of the Israelite slaves was worsening. They cried out to G‑d, and He remembered the covenant He had made with their forefathers.

Fourth Aliyah: Moses was shepherding Jethro’s flocks in the wilderness when he arrived at the “mountain of G‑d.” There he saw a bush burning, yet it was not being consumed by the fire. When he approached to investigate the phenomenon, G‑d called out to him. G‑d declared that He has seen the Israelites’ afflictions, and has decided to deliver them from their Egyptian masters.

Fifth Aliyah: G‑d gave Moses specific instructions: He was to gather the Israelite elders and inform them that G‑d had remembered them and would now rescue them from Egypt and bring them to a Land of Milk and Honey. Then he was to approach Pharaoh and request permission to leave along with the Israelites. G‑d informed Moses that Pharaoh would not accede to this request – but the redemption would come nonetheless, after G‑d will smite Egypt with a strong arm. At that point the Israelites would leave with much riches. G‑d gave Moses three miracles to perform before the Israelites to prove that he was sent by G‑d. When Moses protested that he was not suited to be G‑d’s messenger due to his speech impediment, G‑d assigned his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson.

Sixth Aliyah: Moses took his wife and two sons and headed for Egypt. G‑d charged Moses to warn Pharaoh: “So said G‑d, ‘My firstborn son is Israel. So I say to you, send out My son so that he will worship Me. And if you refuse to send him out, behold, I will slay your firstborn son.'” En route to Egypt, Moses’ wife rescued her husband from divine wrath by performing a circumcision on their son. Moses met Aaron, who had come from Egypt to greet him, and together they went to Egypt, gathered the elders and performed the wondrous signs that G‑d had given Moses.

Seventh Aliyah: Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and presented G‑d’s demand. Pharaoh mocked the request and instructed the Egyptian taskmasters to increase the Israelite slaves’ workload. The Israelites were unable to meet Pharaoh’s new demands, and were viciously beaten as a result. Moses addressed G‑d: “Why have You mistreated this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has mistreated this people, and You have not saved Your people.” G‑d responded: “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out…”

Tevet 15, 5774 · December 18, 2013
Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

The Children of Israel multiply in Egypt. Threatened by their growing numbers,Pharaoh enslaves them and orders the Hebrew midwives, Shifrah and Puah, to kill all male babies at birth. When they do not comply, he commands his people to cast the Hebrew babies into the Nile.

A child is born to Jocheved, the daughter of Levi, and her husband, Amram, and placed in a basket on the river, while the baby’s sister,Miriam, stands watch from afar. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the boy, raises him as her son, and names him Moses.

As a young man, Moses leaves the palace and discovers the hardship of his brethren. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and killsthe Egyptian. The next day he sees two Jewsfighting; when he admonishes them, they reveal his deed of the previous day, and Moses is forced to flee to Midian. There he rescues Jethro’s daughters, marries one of them – Zipporah – and becomes a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks.

G-d appears to Moses in a burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai and instructs him to go to Pharaoh and demand: “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me.” Moses’ brother, Aaron, is appointed to serve as his spokesman. In Egypt, Moses and Aaron assemble the elders of Israel to tell them that the time of their redemption has come. The people believe; but Pharaoh refuses to let them go, and even intensifies the suffering of Israel.

Moses returns to G-d to protest: “Why have You done evil to this people?” G-d promises that the redemption is close at hand.

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