exodus4

Four Liberating Strategies

By Bezalel Naor

Four-Liberating-Strategies-1

In the non-Jewish world, the second of the Five Books of Moses is referred to as “Exodus.” Scholars tell us that this name derived once upon a time from Jewish sages; the Hebrew “Yetsi’at Mitsrayim” was translated into Greek: Exodus.

The medieval Spanish commentator Nahmanides does in fact refer to our book as “Sefer ha-Ge’ulah,” “the Book of Redemption.” But this name, frankly, never caught on. Our people continue to refer to the book to this day as “Sefer Shemot,” “the Book of Names.” The obvious reason for this is that the second word of the book (and the first keyword) is “shemot,” “names.”

Quote1Nahmanides is certainly correct that the axis upon which the entire book spins is the theme of redemption, or perhaps to be more precise, the tight-wire between Exile and Redemption. When we delve deeply into the phenomenon of exile (as opposed to redemption), we discover that the very foundation of exile is the exile of the “I,” just as the redemption of the “I” is essential to redemption in general. As Rav Kook commented on the verse in Ezekiel “And I am in exile”—“the internal, essential ‘I.’”[1]

The sin of Adam was that he was alienated from his essence. He turned to the Serpent’s opinion and lost himself. He could not give a clear response to the question “Where are you?” because he did not know himself, because the true “I” was lost to him…

And so goes the world, drowning in the loss of the “I” of each one, of the individual and of the collective. There come along learned educators. They look at the externals. They too lose sight of the “I” and add straw to the fire, give the thirsty to drink vinegar [and] stuff the brains and the hearts with everything that is external. The “I” is increasingly forgotten, and once there is no “I,” there is no “he,” and all the more so there is no “you.”

“The breath of our nostrils, the Messiah of the Lord.”[2] This is Messiah’s strength, his greatness. He is not external; he is the very breath of our nostrils.

The Lord our God and David our King we shall seek[3]…Our “I” we shall seek. Our selves we shall seek and we shall find…

“And you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”[4] “Who brings you out of the land of Egypt to be to you a God. I am the Lord.”[5]

Memory loss of the essential “I” is most frightening. Therefore the Kabbalists advised that each of us recite at the conclusion of the Shemoneh ‘Esreh prayer a verse from Tanakh that will serve as a mnemonic device to remind us of our Hebrew name when we arrive before the Celestial Court.

So at one extreme we have the exile of the “I,” the exile of the “Names,” and at the other extreme, the redemption of the “I” and the redemption of the “Names.” As the Italian commentator Rabbi Obadiah Seforno observed:

 
“By the number of names”—Then, each member of that generation was reckoned by his name which signifies his personal form, on account of their excellence, as it says, “I shall know you by name” (Exodus 33:17).[6]

This is the first of the liberating strategies: Shemot/Names.

2

 

Ve-Eleh shemot bnei yisrael ha-ba’im mitsraymah.

These are the names of the Children of Israel coming to Egypt.[7]

The initials of the words shemot bnei yisrael ha-ba’im spell out the word “shaveha” (“her returnees”).[8]

Rabbi Yosef Hayyim Sonnenfeld was a whiz when it came to gematriyot (numerical equivalences). He pointed out that the verse “Zion will be redeemed with justice, and her returnees with righteousness”[9] is divided in two. The first half of the verse, “Tsiyon be-mishpat tipadeh,” has the same numerical value as “Talmud Yerushalmi” (1076), while the second half of the verse, “ve-shaveha bi-tsedakah,” is numerically equivalent to “Talmud Bavli” (524).

The message is quite transparent. The Jews in Zion are engaged in the study of the Jerusalem Talmud; the Jews returning from Babylonian exile engage in the study of the Babylonian Talmud.

How does the Babylonia Talmud relate to the exile in Egypt?

Rabbi Shelomo Elyashev wrote in his masterpiece of Kabbalah, Leshem Shevo ve-Ahlamah, that the reason the Rabbis spoke of “four exiles” (Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome) and did not include the Egyptian exile for a total of five exiles, is because “Egypt is the root of all of them and the sum of all of them.”[10] Rav Kook took this further, maintaining that throughout Jewish history there is essentially but one exile and one redemption.[11]

In the Babylonian Talmud we find this self-criticism:

“In dark places he set me to dwell”—this is the Talmud of Babylonia.[12]

Quote2In some sense, the darkness of Babylonian exile is the direct continuation of the darkness of Egypt. By studying the Babylonian Talmud, with its complex and multilayered sugyot, we are coming to terms with the darkness of exile, and by resolving its difficulties and perplexities, we shall eventually come out to the light of redemption.

The Zohar comments on the verse in Exodus 1:14: “And they embittered their lives with hard labor, with mortar, and with bricks, and with all manner of labor in the field…”

“With hard labor” (ba-‘avodah kashah)—with kushya; with mortar (be-homer)—with kal va-homer; “and with bricks” (u-vi-levenim)—with libbun hilkheta; and with all manner of labor in the field (u-ve-khol ‘avodah ba-sadeh)—this refers to beraita.[13]

The Zohar is seeing in the various forms of labor that the Children of Israel were forced to do in Egypt, metaphors for the various scholastic exercises that make up the study of Talmud: the kushya or problem; the “kal va-homer,” a fortiori reasoning, the first of the thirteen interpretive principles; libbun halakha, the final crystallization of the Halakha; and finally, the beraita, or those tannaitic traditions that remained “out in the field” and did not find their way into the Mishnah.

This process of working through the darkness to the light in the course of Talmudic study, and its metaphysical reverberations, is discussed at great length in the writings of the “Mitteler Rebbe,” Rabbi Dov Baer Shneuri of Lubavitch.[14]

 

This is a second liberating strategy.

3

 

Ve-Eleh shemot bnei yisrael ha-ba’im mitsraymah.

These are the names of the Children of Israel coming to Egypt.

The initials of the words shemot bnei yisrael spell “shavei” (those who return).

Every day we recite in our prayers the verse from Isaiah 59:20:

“U-va le-Tsiyon go’el u-le-shavei fesha‘ be-Ya‘akov…”

“A redeemer will come to Zion and to those who return from sin…”

The Ari, “the Lion,” Rabbi Isaac Luria taught that the initials of the three words go’el u-le-shavei fesha’ form the word “guf” (body).[15]

Perhaps this serves as the source for all the revolutionary statements made by Rav Kook in his seminal work Orot concerning the necessity of physical exercise, which when published in 1920 caused such an uproar.[16]

 

Quote3Great is our bodily demand. We need a healthy body. We dealt much in soulfulness; we forgot the holiness of the body (kedushat ha-guf). We neglected bodily health and strength. We forgot that we have holy flesh no less than we have holy spirit.[17]

 

The word “shavei” reminds us that the body was in exile and that we must take it out of exile and value it. We must learn to respect the “kedushat ha-guf ha-Yisraeli,” the “sanctity of the Israelite body.”[18]

To say that we need “a healthy soul in a healthy body,” sounds like an overused cliche. How much more eloquently did Rabbi Nahman of Breslov express that thought:

 

These great souls need a body that will be “fruit of the Land,”[19] of the “air of the Land of Israel.” When the air is sanctified, of “the air of the Land of Israel,” then all the fruits and grain that grow there, by which the person is nourished…all is of the Land of Israel. And from there comes the semen, and from there the body is formed, “I was formed in the lowest parts of the Land,”[20] the Land of Israel, and then the body is “fruit of the Land.” And then it is worthy of receiving a great soul: “‘He calls to the heavens above’—this is the soul; ‘and to the earth’—this is the body.”[21] Because the soul is according to the body. When the body is pure and clean, it can receive a great soul, and vice versa. Therefore, there are countries where the intellect is thick and corpulent, and likewise, there are countries where the intellect is pure and refined. All depends on the country, on the food that comes out of it. So when we are driven from the “air of the Land of Israel,” we cannot receive a great soul.[22]

 

 

This is a third liberating strategy.

4

 

And the woman conceived and bore a son, and she saw him that he is good (va-tere oto ki tov hu)…[23]

 

Rabbi Meir says: His name is Tov (Good).

Rabbi Yehudah says: Toviah is his name…

And the sages say: When Moses was born, the entire house was filled with light. It is written here “and she saw him that he is good,” and it is written there “And God saw the light that it is good (Va-yar’ Elohim et ha-’or ki tov).[24]

 

The word “good” is the key to redemption. Throughout our sacred literature we find associations between the redemption and the good. In the Scroll of Ruth we read: “If he shall redeem you, good (tov)!”[25] There is debate among commentators how to translate the verse. The Talmudic sages (quoted in Rashi) understood that the name of the redeemer in that story was actually Tov.[26] Quote4(Just as Rabbi Meir thought Tov to be the Hebrew name of Moses.) Ibn Ezra objected to that interpretation. Be that as it may, there is no getting away from the “redemption”-“good” connection.

Provided with this information, we are able to grapple with a vexatious passage of Agadah concerning King Hezekiah (who had the potential to be the Messiah):[27]

 

“And the good (ve-ha-tov) in your eyes I did.”[28]

What does it mean, “And the good in your eyes I did”?

Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: “He juxtaposed redemption to prayer.”[29]

 

This is Rav Kook’s reflection upon that enigmatic passage:

 

The essence of the desire to be good to all…this is the inner nucleus of the soul of Knesset Yisrael; this is its inheritance, the legacy of its ancestors…and this is the secret of the nation’s longing for redemption…This good (“ha-tov”) is the secret of the redemption…and the deeply ingrained desire of the good, and the inner thirst for it within the interior of the soul of the nation, which sticks out in the inner prayer of the nation, juxtaposes to it the redemption.

“And the good in your eyes I did.” “He juxtaposed redemption to prayer.”[30]

 

The good, the good eye, the good vision, the good outlook—this takes us back to that original divine gaze which was the germ of the creation of the universe. “The world was constructed with love (hesed).”[31] And that very same goodness is the essence of Moses.

Quote5

“His name was Tov.” “His name was Toviah.”

When Moses was born, “the entire house was filled with light.” The entire “house,” the whole universe is filled with light. Only our vision is occluded, preventing us from taking in this vision. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel notably remarked: “Racism is an eye disease.” If only we had the eyes to behold how good is the light!

Moses, the essence of goodness, was our first redeemer. And just as the first redeemer was the essence of good, so the final redeemer will be the essence of good. The Kabbalists found an allusion to the Messiah being a reincarnation of Moses in the verse in Koheleth: “Mah she-hayah hu she-yieh.” “That which was, is that which shall be.”[32] The initials of the words “Mah she-hayah hu” spell “Moshe.” The influence of Moses is not limited to a single generation. In the words of the Tikkunei Zohar: “His extension is in each and every generation, in every righteous man and sage who studies the Torah.”[33] For this reason, the “gedol ha-dor,” the great man of the generation, is referred to in the Talmud as “Moshe.”[34]

 

In each of us there is a spark of the soul of the Messiah and of Moses.

 

May we merit speedily “the good” and the whole redemption.

Amen.

This is the fourth and final liberating strategy.

 

 

לזכות אהרן בן שרה שיחיה

רפואה שלמה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל

לזכר נשמת

ר’ חיים אורי ב”ר משה ליפשיץ ז”ל

 

___________________________

[1] Ezekiel 1:1; Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, Shemonah Kevatsim 3:24.

[2] Lamentations 4:20.

[3] Hosea 3:5.

[4] Exodus 6:7.

[5] Leviticus 22:33.

[6] Seforno, Numbers 1:2.

[7] Exodus 1:1.

[8] According to Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, the word should be vocaled shivyah (captivity):

 

“Ve-Eleh shemot bnei yisrael ha-ba’im”—initials shivyah, for even when they were in captivity (shivyah), “the names of the Children of Israel,” i.e. they did not change their names. On account of four things they were redeemed from Egypt: because they did not change their names, etc.

(Ba‘al ha-Turim)

 

[9] Isaiah 1:27.

[10] Rabbi Shelomo Elyashev, Sefer ha-De‘ah, Part II (Piotrkow, 1912), 122c.

[11] Orot, Orot me-Ofel (Lights from Darkness), chap. 28.

[12] Lamentations 3:6; TB, Sanhedrin 24a.

[13] Zohar I, 27a; III, 157a (Ra‘aya Mehemna); 229b (Ra‘aya Mehemna).

[14] Rabbi Dov Baer, Sha‘arei Orah (Johannesburg, n.d.; photo offset Brooklyn, 1979), Sha‘ar ha-Hanukkah, chaps. 54-58 (22b-24a).

[15] Rabbi Hayyim Vital, Peri ‘Ets Hayyim, Sha‘ar Keri’at ha-Torah, chap. 5.

[16] See Orot, Orot ha-Tehiyah (Lights of Renascence), chap. 34.

[17] Orot, Orot ha-Tehiyah (Lights of Renascence), chap. 33.

[18] Siddur ‘Olat Re’iyah, vol. I (Jerusalem, 1939), p. 440, s.v. La‘asot Purim.

[19] Isaiah 4:2.

[20] Palms 139:15.

[21] Psalms 50:4; TB, Sanhedrin 91b.

[22] Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, Likkutei Moharan I, 61:3.

[23] Exodus 2:2.

[24] Genesis 1:4; TB, Sotah 12a.

[25] Ruth 3:13.

[26] Ruth Rabbah, parasha 6.

[27] TB, Sanhedrin 94a.

[28] Isaiah 38:3.

[29] TB, Berakhot 10b.

[30] Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, Orot Yisrael 1:4; reprinted in the 1950 edition of Orot, p. 139.

[31] Psalms 89:3.

[32] Ecclesiastes 1:9; Tikkunei Zohar, tikkun 69.

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Moshe, shapir ka-amart?” See Rashi, Shabbat 111b, Sukkah 39a, s.v. Moshe.