Wednesday, January 18, 2006

TORAH STUDIES: Parshat Shemot


Tevet 18, 5766 * January 18, 2006


Parshat Shemot

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, “Send, I pray You, by the hand of whom You will send.” The Midrash 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: “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, will 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, he will be steeped in it); from this, his redemptive strength will be drawn; and the Torah is called “the Torah of Moses.” 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 verse “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. 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.

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. But after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, when the serpent infected Eve with impurity, 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. But it returned with the sin of the Golden Calf, and it remains in the world until the Messianic Age when the promise will be fulfilled to remove (utterly destroy) impurity; 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; 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, and the Fathers kept the whole Torah before it was given), 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”). 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 Israel —will be correspondingly greater than that of the Giving of the Torah; 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 revelation (when “the Glory of the L-rd will be revealed”) 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” 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.

5. The Meaning Of “One”

This can be understood by first understanding a well-known difficulty 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.

The number 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. 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” 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” —but this was a force from above rather than from within (and hence it was not a permanent state).

But from 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, 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. 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, 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, “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); 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, 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.” 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.

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.

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


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Torah Gems - Parsha Shemos
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