The Torah Portion of Shemot
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
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: "Mitraima" 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).
"And these are the names of the children of Israel..." (Shemot 1:1)
Rashi explains that even though Hashem counted them by their names during their lifetimes, He counted them again after their passing, to make known how precious they are to Him, for they are likened to the stars which He brings out and brings in by number and by their names. The Kli Yakar brings out, that there are those who explain that the star, even though it is not visible during the daytime, in any event, it is still present also during the daytime. So to, the Tzaddik (Righteous Man), when he is in the Next World, which is compared to daytime, he has an existence even though he can't be seen, and he appears to be lost only from the perspective of his own generation. And in addition the Kli Yakar brings his own explanation, that the true value of a person's having a good name can only really be recognized after his death, since during his lifetime it is unknown whether he will continue to be righteous throughout his entire lifetime. And that is why it states "...and Yosef was in Mitzrayim (Egypt)" (Shemot 1:5) and Rashi explains on this verse that it comes to tell us of his righteousness, for he continued to be righteous all the days of his life. Therefore, the children of Israel are compared to stars, which can be seen after the setting of the sun. And that is what it means when it states "those who cause the masses to become righteous are like stars forever" (Daniel 12:3), for someone who causes the masses to become righteous, will not have a sin come to his hand, so that it won't be the case that he will be in Gehinom and his students will be in Gan Eden. And if so, it is clear that he will be shining like the stars even after his death. But someone who does not cause the masses to become righteous, it is not clear that he will always continue to be righteous throughout his lifetime. And there are those who explain, that in the daytime the stars are not recognized because they are present next to the light which is shining from the sun, and only when the sun sets and darkness reigns in the world are they recognized. So too regarding the tribes (i.e., the children of Yaakov). As long as Yaakov their father was alive, their greatness was not recognizable because Yaakov was like the sun that prevents the people from being able to distinguish light sources of lesser intensity, but when Yaakov Avinu died and the children of Israel became enveloped in the darkness of Mitzrayim (Egypt), then the holy light of the tribes began to sparkle.
"...who did not know of Yosef" (Shemot 1:8)
There are those that explain that he didn't know about the past of Yosef, how he was at the lowest level and afterwards became elevated to to position of a king. And he needed to contemplate about the past and the future of Yosef, and to learn from that also about the entire congregation of Israel that is impossible to destroy them, just as the verse (Shemot 1:12) states: "But as they afflicted them, so they multiplied and so they spread..." (from Mayana Shel Torah)
The Four Decrees and the Four Cups
In this week's Torah Portion, it is written that there were four decrees placed upon the congregation of Israel: 1. crushing labor - they were made to serve with crushing labor, 2. the river - the baby boys were to be cast into the river, 3. the midwives - the midwives were instructed to kill the baby boys, and 4. straw - they would no longer be provided with straw but still had to produce the same number of bricks. From this, there are those who add another reason why the Sages established to drink four cups at Passover, because we give thanks that we were saved from the four decrees.
"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 commanded to all his people..." (Shemot 1:22)
Rashi says that he also made this decree upon the people of Mitzrayim (Egypt), for on the very day that Moshe was born, his astrologers told him that today the man who will save Israel was born and we don't know if he is a Jew or an Egyptian. Therefore he decreed on that day even on the Egyptians, as it is said "every son that is born" (Shemot 1:22), and it doesn't say "that is born to the Jews". However, the Targum Onkelos (translation to Aramaic by Onkeles) says "every son that is born - that is born to the Jews", so that the meaning is that he only made the decree on the Jews. There are those who explain that the understanding of the Targum is that publicly, Pharoah decreed that the decree would be also upon the Egyptians, for there was no rational reason in the world to decree only upon the Jews. However, the officials of the kingdom secretly received the true explanation of the law, and they explained to those who were appointed to carry out the decree that the intention was - on the Jews. (from Mayana shel Torah)
"...and they kept the boys alive." (Shemot 1:17)
The Sages say that even those who were not viable and able to survive, Shifra and Puah would pray about them and they would remain alive, and that is the explanation of "and they kept the boys alive."
"And G-d did good to the midwives, and the people increased and became very strong." (Shemot 1:20)
The Daat Zekainim explains that this in and of itself was their reward, for the midwives had said to Pharoah that the women of Israel don't need us, and Pharoah had said that they were liars. And when Pharoah saw that there was such an increase in the birthrate of Israel, he changed his mind and said that they had spoken the truth, because it's not possible that only two women could serve as midwives to all of Israel, and if so, the women of Israel were certainly like wild animals that are able to give birth by themselves (without midwives).
"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)]
"...and moreover he drew water for us..." (Shemot 2:19)
There is saying that goes: "Everything that people do, they are only doing it to themselves." The Sages say that at the time that Moshe removed Pharoah's crown from his head, Bilaam said that it was necessary to kill him, and Yitro said that it was necessary to test him with glowing hot coals. If so, Yitro saved Moshe (since Moshe reached for the coals instead of the crown), and also, afterwards, Moshe saved the daughters of Yitro at the well. In addition, the Da'at Zekainim brings that the Midianites threw the daughters of Yitro into a well because Yitro had abandoned their idol worshipping practices, and Moshe saved them as it is written "...and moreover he drew water for us..." (Shemot 2:19), that is, he gave us water, and he also saved us from the pit. This is alluded to, because the Hebrew word for "drawing" with the root letters "Dalet-Lamed-Hey" (meaning "draw") is written twice in this verse. [That is, one time refers to the drawing up of the water from the well, and the other time refers to the drawing up of the daughters.] In addition, there are those that say that Yitro threw Moshe into a pit, and Tziporah threw bread into the pit, and that was a great goodness to Moshe. And therefore, afterwards, Tziporah merited that Moshe would be her husband, and also Yitro merited that Moshe would be his son-in-law. And that is why people say, "Everything that people do, they are only doing it to themselves" (from the Be'er Yosef).
The Questions that Moshe asked at the Bush
1. "Who am I..." (Shemot 3:11) - how am I important enough to speak with kings? And Hashem said to him "...because I will be with you..." (Shemot 3:12).
2. Moshe asked, what merit does Israel have that they should be brought out? And Hashem said to him, that Israel would serve Him on this mountain when they receive the Torah (Shemot 3:12).
3. Moshe asked what he should say when Israel will ask regarding Hashem, "What is His name?" (Shemot 3:13) And Hashem said to him "Ek-yeh Asher Ek-yeh" (In English: "I Shall Be What I Shall Be") (Shemot 3:14).
4. Moshe said: "but they won't believe me...." (Shemot 4:1) And Hashem said to him that he should do for them three signs: the snake, his hand that would become stricken with tsaraat (leprosy), and blood.
5. Moshe said "...I am not a man of words..." (Shemot 4:10), meaning that he had a speech impediment. And Hashem said to him, "...I will be with your mouth..." (Shemot 4:12).
6. Moshe said "...Please send whomever you You will send" (Shemot 4:13), meaning that He should send the person He was accustomed to send, and that was Aharon. And it is written "and the anger of Hashem was kindled..." (Shemot 4:14). And He said to him, that in truth you needed to be Kohen and your brother Aharon the Levi, and because you refused, Aharon will be Cohen and you will be Levi. And regarding the reason he refused to be the Shaliach (agent) and wanted Aharon to be the Redeemer, Rashi explains that Moshe was worried about the honor of Aharon who was older than he was. And Hashem said to him, "...and he (Aharon) will see you and will be happy in his heart" (Shemot 4:14), and in truth, because of this Aharon merited to have an item of jewelry on his heart, and that is the Choshen.
"...Please send whomever You will send..." (Shemot 4:13)
The Ramban says that Moshe meant, anyone whom You will send no mattter who he is will be better than I am, and this was from the great humility of Moshe.
Why did Moshe have a speech impediment?
There are those that explain that the reason Moshe had difficulty speaking, was so that people wouldn't say that because he spoke well that he was able to convince Pharoah to send out the Jewish people. And in addition, the Jewish people had received a tradition that if someone came and said "Pakod Pakaditi" (In English: "I have surely remembered") (Shemot 3:16), it would be a sign that the time of Redemption had arrived. And Moshe, even though he had a speech impediment and was not able to pronounce the letter "P", in spite of that he said "Pakod Pakadi" perfectly, and then they knew clearly that the time for Redemption had come.
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)
We say Borchi Nafshi.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
This is the beginning of the days known as SHOVAVI"M T"T(Translator's Note: The term SHOVAVI"M T"T 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, T'rumah, Tetzvaveh. The initial letters of these Torah Portions are: Shin, Vuv, Bait, Bait, Yud, Mem, Tav, Tav and together those spell the two words SHOVAVI"M T"T. The period of time known as SHOVAVI"M T"T 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