The Torah Portion of Shemot
Sefer Shemot (The Book of "Names")
This week we are beginning a new Chumash, the second of the five books of the Torah, Sefer Shemot. The Ramban calls Sefer Shemot "The Book of the Redemption", because within it the Redemption from Mitzrayim (Egypt) is discussed. And there are those who call it "The Book of the Wars of Hashem".
"And these are the names of the children of Israel..." (In Hebrew: "V'aileh Shemot B'nei Yisrael" -- the beginning four words of the first verse of the Torah Portion of Shemot, Shemot 1:1)
The letters of the Hebrew words "V'aileh Shemot B'nei Yisrael" are: Vuv Aleph Lamed Hey Shin Mem Vuv Taf Bait Nun Yud Yud Shin Raish Aleph Lamed. These letters, taken in order, are the initial letters (in Hebrew : Roshei Teivot) of the following message in Hebrew: "V'adam A'sher L'omaid H'aseder Sh'naim Mikra V'achad T'argum B'kol N'aim Y'shir Y'chyeh Sh'anim R'abot A'ruchim L'olam". In English, this means "And a man that learns the weekly Torah Portion twice in the Hebrew text and one time in the Aramaic translation with a pleasant voice, singing, will live for many long years forever". (from the Ba'al HaTurim as brought in ancient Chumashim)
"And these are the names of the children of Israel who came..." (In Hebrew: "V'aileh Shemot B'nei Yisrael Habaim" -- the beginning five words of the first verse of the Torah Portion of Shemot, Shemot 1:1)
The last letters of the Hebrew words "V'aileh Shemot B''nei Yisrael Habaim" are Hey, Shin, Yud, Lamed, Mem. These letters spell the word "Tehillim", Psalms. With the book of Tehillim (Psalms), it is possible to get out of all narrow straits, and that is the meaning of the word "Mitzraima". (Note: "Mitzraima" is the next word in this Torah verse. "Mitzraima" literally means, "to Egypt", but the root letters of the word for Egypt are related to the word for "narrow straits"). This is also a hint that for the period of time known as SHOVAVI"M (the time period when the first six Torah portions of the book of Shemot are read), one needs to say a lot of Tehillim (Psalms).
"The Egyptians made the Children of Israel to serve with crushing labor." (Shemot 1:13)
The word for "crushing labor" in Hebrew is "B'parech". The Sages gave an alternative interpretation of the word "B'parech"; that this word is composed of two words "B'peh Rach". In English this literally means "with a gentle mouth", that is to say that the Egyptians at first convinced us to serve them with gentle words. In the beginning the servitude was accepted willingly by the Jews, and afterwards it was forced. As a symbol of that, it was established to eat Maror (Bitter Herbs as exemplified by Romaine Lettuce) on Passover that in the beginning of their growth are sweet and afterwards are bitter. This raises a question, for why was a symbol established to remember a period of time which was gentle, that is to say, when we willingly served? It seems that if we were serving willingly, that was not a difficult decree. And the Katav Sofer explains that when a man is forced to work against his will for someone who was once his friend, this is an extremely difficult situation. For a servant who works for someone who was always his enemy, knows that he is his enemy and that he is enslaved to him. But in the case in which someone behaved toward him with friendliness and love and suddenly changed his heart to become his enemy, and at this time he needs to be enslaved under him, this is a very difficult thing. And therefore the fact that it was at one time with a "gentle mouth", is also a difficult decree.
"And Pharoah's daughter went down to bathe at the river..." (Shemot 2:5)
Teachers of Mussar (Ethics) say that when Pharoah's daughter went down to the river, Moshe's sister certainly thought and prayed that Pharoah's daughter would not see him and was greatly distressed about what would be. And afterwards when Pharoah's daughter took the basket she certainly was already entirely giving up hope and in great fear. And in the end, Pharoah's daughter herself saved him, and from that came the salvation of all of the people of Israel. We see from this that it is impossible to know from where salvation will come.
"...and she sent her maidservant..." (Shemot 2:5)
The word for "her maidservant" in Hebrew is "Amata". This same Hebrew word can alternatively be translated into English as "her arm". Rashi brings an explanation that her forearm lengthened, and it is written in the Midrash that it lengthened by 60 Amot (in English: cubits). It has been asked, if Moshe's basket was so far away in the river, why did she think at all to extend her arm? The explanation is that a man needs to do everything that is within his capability and to rely upon Hashem that He will help him. Similarly, Pharoah's daughter extended her arm and didn't think about how her arm would reach the basket which was far away, and Hashem helped her. [from Teachers of Mussar (Ethics)]
The Torah Portion of Shemot has 124 verses.Haftora: "Haba'im Yashreish" (Yeshayahu 27 until "V'nilkadu", and then we skip to Chapter 29:22-23)
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom.
This is the beginning of the days known as SHOVAVI"M
(Translator's Note: The term SHOVAVI"M is made up of the the initial letters of the names of the Torah Portions for this week and the next several weeks: Shemot, Va'eira, Bo, Beshalach, Yitro, Mishpatim. The initial letters of these Torah Portions are: Shin, Vuv, Bait, Bait, Yud, and Mem, and together those spell the word SHOVAVI"M. The period of time known as SHOVAVI"M is an auspicious time for repentance. Note that the word for repentance in Hebrew is Teshuvah, and the root of this word is linguistically related to the word SHOVAVI"M.)
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772