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Ki Sisa






The Chassidic Dimension - Volume 5
Interpretations of the Weekly Torah Readings and the Festivals.
Based on the Talks of The Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.


Compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, Edited by Sichos In English

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"Mortar and Bricks"

"They embittered their lives with hard labor, with mortar and bricks and with every labor of the field; all labor that was intended to break them."[170] Comments the Gemara:[171] "First with 'mortar and bricks,' then with 'every labor of the field,' and eventually 'all labor.'"

The commentaries[172] explain that the Gemara is answering the following question: Since "mortar and bricks" is included in "all labor," why is it singled out? To this the Gemara responds that "mortar and bricks" came first -- it was the beginning of all other labor.

All matters in Torah are exceedingly precise. We thus understand that "mortar and bricks" is considered "first" not only in terms of time, preceding all other forms of labor, but also "first" and foremost in terms of the laboriousness and toil involved. Which is to say, "mortar and bricks" constituted the mainstay of the toil and enslavement, while all other labors were subordinate.

This is also to be seen from the continuation of the narrative: When -- toward the end of the exile, after Moshe and Aharon had already delivered to Pharaoh G-d's demand of "send out My people" -- Pharaoh desired to "make the labor more arduous," he did this specifically through the drudgery of producing bricks.

The reason why the primary enslavement and toil consisted of making "mortar and bricks" is as follows:

The concept[173] of the "Egyptians enslaving the Children of Israel with crushing hardness ... embittering their lives with hard labor," refers to more than just physical toil and exertion. It also means that the life and life-forces of the Jewish people -- their true life and vitality deriving from holiness -- was defiled and put to use by the Egyptian for the construction of "storage cities" for Pharaoh.

Thus, instead of the Jews being able to transform the world into a dwelling for G-d, "the City of our L-rd,"[174] they were forced by their oppressors to utilize their sacred powers to build cities for the forces of unholiness.

Moreover, just as "the City of our L-rd" is constructed from spiritual "mortar and bricks," i.e., individual good deeds that construct spiritual houses that eventually comprise an entire spiritual city, so too with regard to the unholy cities that they were forced to build for Pharaoh: the main servitude consisted in having to make bricks for the construction of the Egyptian cities.

This also explains why the labor of "mortar and bricks" was principal and primary, encompassing "all labor": Any and all labor is ultimately an act of "construction." When one does something positive, whether it be a mitzvah, or something permissible done for "the sake of Heaven," or in a manner of "knowing G-d in all one's ways," then a brick is added to the edifice of holiness; when one does something untoward, a brick is added to the edifice of unholiness.

Building blocks can either be made of stone, something created by G-d, or brick, something fabricated by man. The toil and labor of the Jews in Egypt did not consist of using natural stone, but specifically of fabricating bricks.

As an entity created by G-d, stone symbolizes a lofty level of holiness,[175] for which reason the Beis HaMikdash was to be built from stone;[176] Eretz Yisrael as well, is known as "a land whose stones are iron."[177] Bricks, however, fashioned as they are by man, denote permissible matters; it is up to the individual to shape them, forming them either into something holy through positive deeds, or unholy through negative actions.

Thus Rashi states,[178] "there are no stones in Bavel, as it is a valley." In spiritual terms this means that Bavel (and valleys in general) denotes a lowly degree and grade, a place where G-dliness is concealed. As a result, "stones," characterizing as they do Divinely created objects and degrees of holiness, are not to be found there.

We may accordingly explain why the "hard labor" of the Jewish people in Egypt consisted of building with bricks and not with stones:

Since the purpose of this labor was building "storage cities for Pharaoh" (the antithesis of "the City of our L-rd"), it follows that their construction was not of the more "spiritual," heaven-made stone, but of the more material, man-made bricks.

With their exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people ceased being "brick builders" and became "stone masons" instead, ultimately constructing "the City of our L-rd."

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, pp. 13-16.

The Exodus -- In Merit of Receiving the Torah

In the Torah Portion of Shmos, we find Moshe saying to G-d:[179] "Who am I, that I go to Pharaoh, and that I take the Children of Israel from Egypt." Our Sages explain[180] that in saying "and that I take the Children of Israel from Egypt," Moshe was in effect asking: "What merit do they possess that I be able to liberate them?"

G-d responded: "When you take out the nation from Egypt they will serve G-d on this mountain."[181] In other words, "In reply to your question, 'What merit do they possess that I be able to liberate them?' Know that they will leave there [from Egypt] in the merit of the Torah that in the future they will be receiving through you on this mountain."[182]

How did the Jewish people's future acceptance of the Torah stand them in good stead to presently merit liberation from Egypt?

It can be argued that since G-d knows the future, He can reward a good deed even before its performance. Here as well, since G-d knew that they would receive the Torah, He took them out of Egypt in anticipation of their future merit.[183]

However, this argument doesn't hold. When a future deed is a result of man's choice, G-d may consider it as a merit even prior to its performance. But in this instance, since G-d decreed "When you take out the nation from Egypt they will serve G-d on this mountain," the Jewish people were compelled -- because of G-d's decree -- to receive the Torah, it didn't depend on their own desire and free choice. How then can they be rewarded for some-thing foisted on them?

The Shibolei HaLeket[184] quotes the following Midrash: "When the Jewish people received the glad tidings that they would be redeemed from Egypt, they were also then informed that they would receive the Torah on the fiftieth day of their departure, as the verse states, 'When you take out the nation from Egypt they will serve G-d on this mountain.' ... Thereupon, the Jews [beginning at the time of the Exodus] began counting the days ... as a result of their great love [and anticipation] of receiving the Torah."

Since the news of receiving the Torah aroused such great love and anticipation within the Jewish people while they were still in Egypt -- surely, a very meritorious action, G-d was able to answer Moshe, "they will leave there in the merit of the Torah that in the future they will receive through you on this mountain."

Every causal relationship entails an association and correlation between the cause and the effect. Here as well: since the Jewish people's desire to receive the Torah was the cause and merit that brought about their actual liberation, there is surely a cogent relationship between receiving the Torah and the Exodus. What is that relationship?

Leaving Egypt entails[185] not only the physical departure from the actual land of Egypt, it also denotes departing from all spiritual straits and limitations -- the word Egypt is rooted in the Hebrew word meitzar, "straits and limitations." Thus the individual departs not only from the straits of his evil inclination, or from the limitations of his body and animal soul that hinder his spiritual development, but even from the "straits" of holiness:

When a person's spiritual service is based solely upon his understanding of G-dliness or his love and awe of Him, his service is necessarily limited by the extent of his comprehension or feeling -- he is still in a state of spiritual "strait and limitation."

True departure from Egypt consists of serving G-d with total self-effacement, where the person feels himself not at all and is entirely nullified to G-d, as the verse states,[186] "For unto Me the Children of Israel are servants; they are My servants, whom I have taken out of Egypt."

G-d's taking the Jewish people out of Egypt in and of itself brought about that they be G-d's servants -- a servant having no will other than the will of his master. When an individual attains the level of "servant," entirely nullified to G-d, he then truly departs from all straits and limitations.

The association between the merit of the Jewish people, that while still in Egypt they intensely desired to receive the Torah and their actual liberation from Egyptian exile, is now clear:

G-d notified Moshe that the Jews would not only receive the Torah, but that they would also "serve G-d on this mountain" -- they would totally subservient and nullify themselves before Him. And as mentioned above, this aspect of divine servitude was already intensely desired by the Jewish people while they were still in Egypt.

As this degree of servitude denoted the Jews' free willing complete nullification to G-d, it brought about their actual exodus from Egypt -- true freedom from any and all straits and limitations.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 7-15.



  1. (Back to text) Shmos 1:14.

  2. (Back to text) Sotah 11b.

  3. (Back to text) Chidushei Aggados, ibid.

  4. (Back to text) See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 848ff.

  5. (Back to text) Tehillim 48:2.

  6. (Back to text) See Torah Or, 77c.

  7. (Back to text) Rambam, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:8.

  8. (Back to text) Devarim 8:9.

  9. (Back to text) Bereishis 11:3.

  10. (Back to text) Shemos 3:11.

  11. (Back to text) Shemos Rabbah 3:4.

  12. (Back to text) Shemos, ibid., verse 12.

  13. (Back to text) Text of the Midrash, ibid.

  14. (Back to text) See Ho'il Moshe, Divrei Dovid and Be'er Yitzchok on these verses.

  15. (Back to text) Beginning of Arugah 8 (236).

  16. (Back to text) See Torah Or, Shemos 49d; Va'eira 57b ff.; Yisro 71c-d, et al.

  17. (Back to text) Vayikra 25:55 and Rashi, ibid.

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