Parshat Shemot תשעט
This coming Shabbat we begin reading the second book of the Torah, Sefer Shemot. The רמב”ן, (Ramban) Nachmanides, calls this second book of the Torah ספר הגאולה – “The Book of Redemption.” It seems easy to understand where the Ramban is coming from. Only the book’s first chapter, all of 22 verses, tells us of the Jews’ slavery in Egypt.
Chapter 2 discusses Moshe’s birth and how Pharaoh’s daughter saved him and ultimately raised him in the royal palace. We also learn about Moshe’s special character and great sensitivity, how he felt the pain of his brothers in their slavery. An incident with an Egyptian beating a Jew caused Moshe to flee for his life to Midyan, where he met his bashert Tzipporah.
Chapter 3 begins the account of the redemption process, starting with Hashem revealing Himself to Moshe Rabbeinu and charging him to go to Pharaoh to demand, “Let My people go!” The book’s continuation describes the miracles of the redemption via the ten plagues, culminating with the crossing of the Reed Sea and the drowning of their Egyptian enemies, in chapter 15.
In chapters, 16-40 we learn of the Jewish people’s travel to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the covenant, with all of its provisions, that would seal the Jewish nation’s relationship with Hashem forever. Those chapters also deal with the instructions for building of the Tabernacle, its specifications and its construction.
Upon closer consideration, then, calling the second book “the Book of Redemption” seems inappropriate. After all, most of the book, a full 25 of its 40 chapters, no longer deals with the redemption, which seems to have concluded with the Egyptians’ drowning and the complete extrication of the Jews from their enemies’ clutches. Why, then, did the Ramban call this book the “Book of Redemption?”
The Ramban himself, in the preface to his commentary to the book of Shemot, explains why the entire book, including the chapters about receiving the Torah and the Tabernacle’s fabrication, are also considered part of the Jewish nation’s redemption.
רמב”ן הקדמה לשמות
השלים הכתוב ספר בראשית שהוא ספר היצירה בחדוש העולם ויצירת כל נוצר ובמקרי האבות שהם כענין יצירה לזרעם מפני שכל מקריהם ציורי דברים לרמוז ולהודיע כל עתיד לבא להם
This concludes the book of Genesis, which is the book of the creation of the world and everything in it and describes the events that occurred to our Forefathers, because those events are like “a creation” for their offspring, since everything that happened to them is destined to occur to their children after them. (מעשה אבות סימן לבנים)
ונתיחד ספר ואלה שמות בענין הגלות הראשון הנגזר בפירוש (בראשית טו יג) ובגאולה ממנו,
And the book of Shemot focuses on the first exile which was explicitly decreed (Genesis 15:13), and the redemption from it.
והנה הגלות איננו נשלם עד יום שובם אל מקומם ואל מעלת אבותם ישובו – וכשיצאו ממצרים אף על פי שיצאו מבית עבדים עדיין יחשבו גולים, כי היו בארץ לא להם נבוכים במדבר, וכשבאו אל הר סיני ועשו המשכן ושב הקדוש ברוך הוא והשרה שכינתו ביניהם אז שבו אל מעלת אבותם, שהיה סוד אלוה עלי אהליהם, והם הם המרכבה (ב”ר מז ח), ואז נחשבו גאולים ולכן נשלם הספר הזה בהשלימו ענין המשכן ובהיות כבוד ה’ מלא אותו תמיד
However, the exile was not finished until the Jewish people had returned to their original place – the state of perfection of the Forefathers. Although they were freed from the Egyptian slavery, they were not yet considered redeemed, because they were not in their own land and were still wandering in the wilderness. But after they received the Torah on Mount Sinai, and then built the Tabernacle, Hashem returned His Divine Presence – שכינה (Shechina) to dwell among them. This constituted the return to the state of the forefathers’ perfection, when the שכינה – the Divine Presence of Hashem – dwelled upon their tents. As the sages say, “the Forefathers were the chariot (dwelling place) of Hashem.” Only then, were they were considered redeemed. Therefore, the book concludes with the completion of the construction of the Tabernacle, with the Divine Presence dwelling there permanently.
One of the last verses in Shemot reads (Exodus 40:34):
לד) וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד יְדֹוָד מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן:
34) And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Glory of Hashem filled the Tabernacle.
The Ramban explains that the redemption was incomplete until the Tabernacle was built and Hashem’s Shechina rested among the Jewish people permanently. With this, once again the Jewish nation were the resting place for Hashem’s Shechina, as it was with the Forefathers. This is the state of redemption for the Jewish Nation.
Taking into account the Ramban’s explanation for the purpose of the Tabernacle, we obtain a deeper appreciation for what he is saying here. The commandment to build the Tabernacle came the day after Moshe returned from Mount Sinai. At the Sinai event, the entire Jewish nation witnessed and experienced the שכינה (Shechina) – Hashem’s Divine Presence. At Mount Sinai, Hashem revealed Himself to the entire nation, and they all heard Him give the first two commandments.
The Ramban writes (Exodus 25:1),
וסוד המשכן הוא, שיהיה הכבוד אשר שכן על הר סיני שוכן עליו בנסתר
The secret of the Tabernacle is that the Glory of Hashem that was on Mount Sinai should dwell hidden in the Tabernacle.
והיה במשכן תמיד עם ישראל הכבוד שנראה להם בהר סיני
Therefore, through the Tabernacle, Hashem’s Glory, which appeared on Mount Sinai, would always be with the Jewish people.
The Tabernacle created a permanent presence for Hashem within the Jewish people, and, with that, we returned to the state of perfection of the Forefathers who, through the holy lives they lived in service of Hashem, had become the “chariot” – resting place for Hashem’s שכינה (Shechina).
There is a subtle, yet profound, idea hidden in the Ramban’s commentary here.
The simple understanding of גלות – exile, is a state in which one is under another’s control and not free to act as he pleases. גאולה – redemption, is achieving freedom from that oppression. According to this definition, the redemption should have been complete with the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Yam Suf, since that ended Egyptian control over the Jews. What is the Ramban’s different understanding of the word גאולה – redemption?
The answer to this lies in a deeper understanding of גלות – exile. While we define גלותas being “under the control of another,” that is really just a symptom of exile, not its essence. The real problem with being “under the control of another” is that a person (or nation) is unable to be “himself” and to bring forth and express his true essence, viz, the person that resides within him – who he really is. He is not free to use his G-d given talents and endowments to pursue his unique purpose and mission in life since he must dedicate them to the wishes and desires of the other person.
גאולה – redemption, is restoring a person to his original state of independence, where he can be “who he really is,” and bring out his personal and special contribution to the world, instead of being subject to what the other person wants him to be.
We learn this concept from a statement of the Sages in Pirkei Avot (6:6):
כָּל הָאוֹמֵר דָּבָר בְּשֵׁם אוֹמְרוֹ מֵבִיא גְאֻלָּה לָעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ בְּשֵׁם מָרְדְּכָי
Whoever quotes something in the name of the one who said it, brings redemption to the world. As it says: “and Esther told it to the king in the name of Mordechai.”
In the Purim story, when Mordechai was sitting at the king’s gates, he overheard two of the king’s servants plotting to kill the king. Mordechai relayed the information to Esther, who told the king, making sure to tell it to him in Mordechai’s name. The men were caught and executed, and the incident was written in the king’s book of memories. Five years later, when the king couldn’t sleep and asked for the book of memories, he again heard that Mordechai had saved his life. The king rewarded Mordechai for saving his life, and thus began the about-face in the Purim story. This turned Mordechai from Haman’s most despised enemy to the savior of the king and a hero. This seemingly insignificant act of Esther, quoting Mordechai, facilitated the Jewish people’s redemption.
Although, in the Purim story, Esther’s quoting Mordechai brought about the salvation, what does that have to do with a person identifying the author when quoting his statement? Is he quoting it to a king who is being plotted against? What’s the connection?
The Maharal of Prague explains:
ספר דרך חיים – פרק ו משנה ז
וזה כי האומר דבר בשם אומרו הוא גם כן מביא גאולה לעולם כאשר מחזיר הדברים שהם ביד אחר אל מי שהדברים הם שלו ויצאו הדברים מרשות אחר אותם שהיו תחת ידו ומחזירם אל מי שהדברים שלו, ולכך על ידו ג”כ הגאולה של ישראל כי ישראל היו תחת אחרים ועל ידו ראוי שיחזרו ישראל אל מי שהם שלו וישראל הם אל הקב”ה בודאי,
When a person identifies a statement’s author, he also brings redemption to the world by returning the words, which are now in the hands of another, to their true owner, where they belong. Now (when they have been attributed to their originator) they have left that other person’s possession and have been returned to the one whose words they are. And through this, redemption will come to the Jewish people who are under the control of others, and through this they will be returned to whom they belong, Hashem.
When a person originates a concept or original Torah thought, but it is out in the world in the hands of just anybody who wishes to quote it, it’s as if it’s not his. By being under the control of others and out of its proper place, it’s like in exile. It also fails to represent the unique contribution its originator provided to the world. But when someone attributes the idea to its original owner, where it rightfully belongs, he is, so to speak, freeing it from the clutches of those who hold it as if it is theirs, returning it to where it belongs. Additionally, since that original idea was the expression of that person’s unique mind and perspective – who he is in the world- when it is restored to him, it once again represents his unique contribution to the world. The Maharal goes on to say that these mini-redemptions add up and will ultimately cause the Jewish people’s final redemption from foreign hands and back into the hands of Hashem where they belong.
The world today is in the hands of people who think that they control it and that it is theirs. Whenever we quote a statement in the name of its author, we are making an effort to restore things to where they rightfully belong. We hope that this will inspire us to try to do the same for Hashem, to restore His world back into His hands, as He is, truly, the only Master of the Universe.
We see from the Maharal that the concept of redemption means restoring something or someone to its proper place, allowing it to represent the originator’s true expression instead of what others do with it. This is why the Ramban says that we were not גאולים – redeemed, until we had the שכינה with us as it was with the Forefathers. This is where the Jewish people belong, in the embrace of Hashem’s שכינה . This is our default position, the one in which we are free to express who we are and fulfill our purpose in the world.
The Midrash tells us (Midrash Rabbah Bereshit 19:7):
א”ר אבא בר כהנא מהלך אין כתיב כאן אלא מתהלך מקפץ ועולה עיקר שכינה בתחתונים היתה כיון שחטא אדם הראשון נסתלקה שכינה
Rabbi Abba Bar Kahana said, [After Adam sinned,] “theשכינה (Shechina) was ascending upwards.” Originally, the main station of Hashem’s Shechina was with man, but, after Adam sinned, it left and went up to the heavens.
Hashem created man so that He could dwell with him in this world. The main place of Hashem’s Presence was supposed to be with man here in this world. This would allow man to fulfill his purpose in the world in the most perfect way. Unfortunately, once man sinned, the Divine Presence could no longer remain with him. But Avraham, Yitzchak. and Yaakov, through their perfect service to Hashem, returned it to mankind. When the Divine Presence found its final and permanent resting place with the Jewish nation in the Tabernacle, the Jewish Nation had finally achieved its complete redemption, for it was now back in its proper place, with theשכינה in its midst. The שכינה was subsequently transferred to the Holy Temple built by King Solomon, and, then to the Second Holy Temple, after 70 years of destruction.
This is why the Sages call the period under the Greek occupation of Israel יון גלות – the Greek exile- even though the Jewish people were in Israel at the time. Since the Holy Temple was under Greek control and the Jews could not perform the daily service, the Divine Presence was absent. The definition of גלות – exile, then, is the estrangement of the Jewish people from the שכינה.
It follows from this, that to the extent that we are connected to theשכינה , the Divine Presence, we are not in exile. We see this idea from a Midrash about the names of the children of Yaakov:
מדרש רבה שמות – פרשה א פסקה ה
ה) ואלה שמות בני ישראל- על שם גאולת ישראל נזכרו כאן
And these are the names of the Sons of Yisrael – Their names are a reference to the redemption of Israel.
The Midrash continues to connect each of the names of Yaakov’s sons to the redemption. This implies that they were already considered redeemed, an idea supported by the fact that as long as any of Yaakov’s sons was still alive, the Egyptian slavery could not begin. This is because the Divine Presence never left them. They were all so holy and connected to the שכינה, that the גלות, exile, could not affect them.
The Midrash tells us (Shmos Rabba 2:2):
א”ר אחא לעולם אין השכינה זזה מכותל מערבי, שנאמר (שיר ב) הנה זה עומד אחר כתלנו
Rabbi Acha said: The Shechina has never left the Temple’s Western wall. As it says in the verse (Shir Hashirim 2:9), “Behold, this One (Hashem) stands behind our wall.” (A reference to the Western Wall) This is why so many people feel a natural connection to the Kotel. They are in the presence of the Divine Presence and feel very at home with it.
The Talmud tells us that when the second Holy Temple was destroyed, its שכינה was distributed amongst all the בתי כנסיות – Shuls, and בתי מדרשות – Torah study halls. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (3:6) notes that even if a person studies Torah by himself, the Shechina is with him. When a Jew studies the Torah, prays in Shul, or learns in a Torah study hall, he is connected to the Shechina and, to some degree, is home where he belongs – in the embrace of Hashem’s Presence.
This is why the coming of Mashiach represents the ultimate redemption. When the Mashiach comes, and Hashem, once again, reveals His presence to the world, we will all bask in the embrace of Hashem’s Shechina. We will finally be home, forever.