The general subject of the Torah portion of Shmos is the descent of the Jewish people into Egyptian servitude.
The actual descent into Egypt is described in the book of Bereishis. The servitude, however, begins in the portion of Shmos, after the demise of Yosef and all his brothers, "for, as long as one of the brothers was still alive, there was no servitude."
Thus, the beginning of the portion deals with the exile, for the verses preceding the passage about the demise of Yosef and his brothers describe how the Jewish people ended up in Egypt when their place was in Eretz Yisrael.
The portion then relates how times became even more difficult, beginning with "The Egyptians started to make the Children of Israel do labor designed to break their bodies," and culminating with Pharaoh's decree that "Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile...."
And finally, at the conclusion of the portion, Pharaoh decrees: "Do not give the people straw for bricks as before. Let them go and gather their own straw. Meanwhile, you must require them to make the same quota of bricks as before. Do not reduce it."
Indeed, matters became so difficult that Moshe asked G-d: "Why do You mistreat Your people? Why did You send me? As soon as I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he made things worse for these people, and You have done nothing to save them."
Since the entire portion, as we have seen, deals with the exile, why is it called Shmos, "names," after the beginning of the portion: "These are the names of the Children of Israel."
What is the connection between names and the Egyptian exile?
Moreover, the "names of the Children of Israel" are actually related to their redemption - "It was because of their coming redemption that their names are mentioned here." Additionally, the Midrash says that the Jews were redeemed from exile "because they did not change their names... they came [to Egypt] as Reuven and Shimon and they departed as Reuven and Shimon."
How is it then that a Torah portion which deals almost entirely with exile should have as its title a word that relates to redemption?
In truth, the concept of "names" relates not only to redemption but to exile as well. Indeed, it is much easier to perceive the superficial connection between names and exile than the more internal connection between names and redemption, as shall presently be explained.
A name possesses two opposite characteristics: On the one hand, a person's name does not tell the average individual anything about him, for we observe that many different people share the same name. On the other hand, we also observe that when someone faints, it is sometimes possible to rouse him by calling his name.
The reason for this is that a person's name does indeed relate to his essence, serving as the conduit through which his soul's life-force emanates within his body. This is why, when a person faints and his revealed powers are in a state of concealment, calling him by name may arouse the essence of his soul, which will then be drawn down again and revealed within his body.
The connection between the general content of the Torah portion and its title Shmos can be understood accordingly:
The state of exile is characterized by concealment, for, even in exile, no true change comes about, Heaven forbid. Thus, even in exile, the essence of every Jew remains whole; it is merely concealed. And, as mentioned earlier, on a superficial level, names also conceal the essence.
In a deeper sense, exile itself comes about when the essence of the name - the quintessential aspect of the Jew - is in a state of concealment. When the true inner content of the name is revealed - when the essence of the soul is revealed - then the name ceases to depict a state of exile and instead reflects a state of redemption.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVI, pp. 301-305
- (Back to text) Cf. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, p. 34.
- (Back to text) Commentary of Rashi, Shmos 6:16.
- (Back to text) Shmos 1:13.
- (Back to text) Ibid., verse 22.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 5:6-8.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, ibid., p. 36.
- (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah beginning of the portion.
- (Back to text) Vayikra Rabbah 32:5; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:12.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, ibid., p. 37 and sources cited there.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Behar 41c et al.
On the passage in which G-d reveals His name as,
"I Will Be Who I Will Be," the Midrash comments
that G-d forcefully redeemed the multitude from Egypt, even those individuals who were wicked. However, those who did not want to leave Egypt died during the three days of darkness.
G-d redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt because, as stated in this week's portion of Shmos, they are "His firstborn son." He tells Pharaoh to "send out My son so that he may serve Me."
The redemption of the Jews from Egypt thus came about because all the Jews in Egypt, even the lowliest, were considered by G-d to be His children, and the connection between a father and child is so essential that it is not subject to deterioration or change.
G-d's relationship with every Jew is thus so strong that, in the words of our Sages: "Whatever the case [whether you are good or not], you are called [My] children, [therefore,] exchanging them for another nation is impossible."
This being so, why weren't all the people redeemed from Egypt?
Furthermore, during the Egyptian exile, there were different categories of evil people among the Jews, up to and including idolaters... so much so that there were individuals who left Egypt with their idols in hand. Nevertheless, all the Jews managed to take part in the exodus. Why then were those who did not want to leave Egypt excluded from the redemption? How were they different from the rest?
Consider. According to Rebbe, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the very day of Yom Kippur brings atonement for all sins, even if the sinner himself does not atone. However, Rebbe admits that if a person transgresses the prohibitions of Yom Kippur itself, such as eating and drinking on that day, then Yom Kippur will not atone for these sins.
Since, according to Rebbe, Yom Kippur atones even for the harshest of sins, why does it not ameliorate the sins of Yom Kippur itself?
The Rogatchover Gaon answers: Since these sins pertain to Yom Kippur itself, Yom Kippur serves as a "cause" for them, i.e., the sins came about through the very day of Yom Kippur. It follows that the cause of a sin cannot simultaneously act as its atonement, for "a prosecutor cannot become a defense attorney."
On a more esoteric level, the explanation is as follows: Yom Kippur reveals the essential bond between every Jew and G-d, a bond that transcends iniquity. However, sins relating to Yom Kippur itself block the revelation of this bond with G-d. It is therefore impossible for the bond to serve as a basis of a person's forgiveness for sins committed on Yom Kippur, since these very sins obscure this bond.
The same is true with regard to the Exodus: The arousal from above that brought about the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt was predicated upon the revelation of G-d's bond as Father of His children.
Since this connection is not subject to change, it resulted in the freeing of all the Jews from Egyptian bondage, even those who were wicked, for "Whatever the case, you are called [My] children."
But those Jews who refused to leave Egypt, choosing to remain "slaves to slaves" - the very antithesis of devotion to G-d, and surely in complete opposition to the relationship implied by the phrase "My firstborn son" - placed themselves in a different category:
By their refusal to leave, they opposed the very revelation of the essential bond between G-d and all Jews. It was thus impossible for this revelation to serve as the grounds for their redemption, because "a prosecutor cannot become a defense attorney."
Nonetheless, this was only so regarding the redemption from Egypt. Concerning the future Redemption, the Torah assures us that all Jews, without exception, will be redeemed.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, pp. 1-4
- (Back to text) Shmos 3:14.
- (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 3:6 and commentaries.
- (Back to text) Ibid. 14:3; Tanchuma, Va'eira 14; Rashi, Bo 10:22.
- (Back to text) Shmos 4:22.
- (Back to text) Ibid., verse 23.
- (Back to text) See Kiddushin 36a; Rus Rabbah, Pesichta 3. See also Bamidbar Rabbah 2:15.
- (Back to text) See Zohar, Vol. II, p. 170b. See also Shmos Rabbah 1:30; Tanchuma, Shmos 10.
- (Back to text) Zohar, ibid.; Mechilta, Shmos 14:28; Yalkut Reuveni, Shmos 14:27; Shmos Rabbah 43:8, Tanchuma, Sisa 14.
- (Back to text) See Sanhedrin 103:b; Tanchuma, ibid.; Shmos Rabbah 24:1.
- (Back to text) Yoma 85b.
- (Back to text) Shavuos 13a.
- (Back to text) See Mishnah, Yoma ibid.; Gemara, ibid., 86a.
- (Back to text) Tzofnas Pa'aneiach, Hilchos Yibum 4:20.
- (Back to text) Berachos 59a; Rosh HaShanah 26a.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1149ff. and places cited there.
- (Back to text) See Devarim 30:2-3 and commentary of Rashi; Hilchos Talmud Torah l'Admur HaZakein 4:3; Tanya ch. 39; Teshuvos U'Biurim sec. 8.