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In The Garden Of The Torah
Insights of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
on the weekly Torah Readings

Shmos - 5754

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Publisher's Foreword

The essay to follow focuses on the unique aspect of Parshas Shmos: that on one hand it is a parshah of exile.

Throughout the entire Torah reading, the hardships of exile mount.

Simultaneously, it is the parshah in which, the prophet of redemption,

Moshe is chosen, and the message of redemption conveyed to him - and by him - in plainly understood terms.

One cannot help but appreciate the contemporary relevance of this paradox.

On one hand, there is no need to elaborate on the difficulties of exile.

Simultaneously, we have been granted knowledge of the identity of the Redeemer and have clearly heard his message.

May our study of the Rebbe Shlita's teaching generate divine blessings for his complete and speedy recovery and enable him to lead the Jewish people through the final transitions necessary before the Redemption becomes actual reality.

And may this take place in the most immediate future.

5 Teves, 5754

Challenge, Growth, and Transition

Confronting Challenge

On one hand, people shy away from challenges.

There is a danger of failure - were there not, it would not be a challenge - and no one appreciates a brush with failure.

On the other hand, we seek challenge, for confronting a challenge taps our inner resources, lifting us out of the mundane doldrums of ordinary experience.

Similar concepts apply with regard to our divine service.

G-d does not want our divine service to be in the doldrums.

And so, He presents us with challenges. Some of these challenges are limited in scope, and some are deeper, forcing us to summon up our deepest resources of commitment.

This is the nature of the challenge of exile.

During the Era of the Beis HaMikdash, the open revelation of G-dliness inspired the Jews to serve G-d with heightened feeling and deep intent.

In the era of exile, by contrast, G-dliness is hidden, and we are presented with many different hurdles in our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.

We can no longer rely on our external environment to motivate deeper understanding and feeling for G-dliness.

Instead, our focus must become internal; the challenges of exile arouse our deepest resources of soul, and elevate our connection to G-d to a higher level. [1]

The Paradox of Exile

These concepts are reflected in our Torah reading which describes the successive descents experienced by the Jewish people in Egypt.

As long as Yosef and his brothers lived, the Jews lived in prosperity and security.

But with the death of Yaakov's sons came the conscription of the Jewish people to hard labor, and afterwards, the casting of their offspring to the Nile and other acts of cruelty.

Even after Moshe returned with the promise of redemption, the oppression of the Jewish people grew to the extent that Moshe himself cried out: [2] "Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people."

Nevertheless, coupled with these difficulties, the Torah reading also relates how the Jews cried out to G-d, awakening His attention. [3]

In response, G-d conveyed the promise of Redemption and His pledge that, "when you take this people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain," [4] i.e., G-d committed Himself to give the Jews the Torah. This opened the possibility for a higher and deeper bond with G-d than could have possibly been reached before.

The Story a Name Tells

These two polarities are reflected in the name of the Torah reading Shmos, which means "names."

There are two dimensions to a person's name.

On one hand, a name represents the external aspects of a person's being, as apparent from the fact that a person's name is necessary only insomuch as he relates to others.

For himself, as he is involved in his own matters, he does not require a name.

Moreover, several individuals of totally different natures can share the same name, demonstrating that on the surface, a person's name does not show who he is. [5]

Nevertheless, as the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, [6] a name represents an entity's nature and life-force.

It is the channel that allows that inner nature to be expressed. [7]

And this is not merely an essential factor, it affects a person's day- to-day conduct; we see that when a person is called by name, he turns to the caller with attention.

And for many people, no sound is dearer than that of their own names.

Moreover, we find that when a person faints, it is possible to rouse him to consciousness by calling him by name, or whispering his name in his ear.

To relate these points to the concepts of exile and redemption:

As long as what is revealed is merely the external dimension of the Jews' name, it is possible for the Jews to be subjugated to worldly powers.

But when the essence of the Jews' name, Yisrael, is expressed there is no potential for exile.

For the name Yisrael indicates how "you contended with G-d and with men and prevailed." [8]

This points to the fundamental difference between exile and redemption.

For exile does not represent a change in the essence of our relationship with G-d.

From His perspective, even in exile we are "[His] children. And to change [us] for another nation, [He] cannot." [9]

And with regard to the Jewish people, on the verse,,[10] "I am asleep, but my heart is awake," our Sages comment, [11] "Although I am sleeping in exile, my heart is awake for the Holy One, blessed be He."

What is the difference between exile and redemption?

Whether "our name is being called" and we are responding, i.e., whether this relationship is openly expressed or concealed, and remaining merely as a potential. [12]

Destiny and Direction

The cycle of exile and redemption is not a coincidental circumstance, but a Divinely ordained process.

G-d desired that the Jews reach higher peaks of divine service, and so He structured a setting, the challenges of exile, which would compel them to express their deepest spiritual potentials. And at the outset, He gave them the potential to overcome these challenges.

This is also alluded to in the Torah's mention of the names of the tribes at the beginning of the Torah reading.

Our Sages explain [13] that this is an expression of how deeply G-d cherishes our people. "Since they are like stars, He called each of them by name."

In Torah law, [14] we find the principle: "An important entity can never be nullified."

By repeating the names of the Jewish people, [15] the Torah emphasizes how important they are to G-d and ensures that their existence will not by nullified by the challenges of exile.

The Torah mentions, not the name of our people as a whole, but rather, the names of each of the tribes.

The tribes represent different approaches to divine service.

This indicates that not only the essence of the Jewish people, but also the various different individual approaches of the Jews are endowed with the strength to endure the exile, and advance and grow through this experience.

From Exile to Redemption

The cycle of exile and redemption is significant, not only for Jewish people, but for the world at large.

The purpose of creation is to establish a dwelling for G-d. [16]

This dwelling is fashioned by the Jewish people who involve themselves in different aspects of worldly experience and reveal the G-dliness enclothed in these elements of existence.

During the exile, the Jews are scattered in different lands and brought into contact with diverse types of encounters.

As the challenge of exile lifts the Jews to a deeper level of connection to G-d, it also elevates the surroundings in which their service is carried out, making manifest the G-dliness which permeates our world as a whole.

The saga of exile and redemption is not merely a story of the past.

On the contrary, at present the concept is most relevant, for this is the essence of the transition whose ripples are affecting all dimensions of existence at present.

To borrow an expression from the Previous Rebbe, [17] "Everything is ready for the Redemption; even the buttons have been polished."

All that is necessary is a change of focus, that we open our eyes, see Mashiach's influence, and create a setting for it to encompass mankind as a whole. [18]

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, 843ff, Vol. XVI, p. 36ff; Vol. XXVI; p. 301ff, Sichos Parshas Shmos, 5751



  1. (Back to text) More specifically, the reference is to the level of yechidah, the dimension of soul which is absolutely one with G-d. This level is revealed through the challenges of exile.

  2. (Back to text) Exodus 5:23.

  3. (Back to text) Ibid. 2:23-24.

  4. (Back to text) Ibid. 3:12.

  5. (Back to text) And yet a person with insight can see how an individualÆs name tells us volumes about his character. In that vein, Yoma 83b relates that Rabbi Meir would be able to recognize a person's character by his name.

  6. (Back to text) Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, chapter 1.

  7. (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Behar 41c.

  8. (Back to text) Genesis 32:29.

  9. (Back to text) Kiddushin 36a; Rus Rabbah, Pesichta 3; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 3 and sources cited there.

  10. (Back to text) Song of Songs 5:2.

  11. (Back to text) Zohar, Vol. III, p. 95a, see Shir HaShirim Rabbah on the verse.

  12. (Back to text) This concept also gives us insight into the nature of redemption: that redemption does not require the creation of anything new, but the revelation of a potential which already exists.

    Similarly, this idea points to the manner in which we can endeavor to bring this potential into expression by all Jews regardless of their immediate level of Jewish involvement. What is necessary is to call the person by his name Yisrael, and to give him an opportunity to reveal who he is. Since he is a Jew and by nature, he "desires to fulfill all the mitzvos and separate himself from sin" (Rambam, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20), he will respond, showing who he is, and expressing his inner nature.

  13. (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 1:3 (quoted by Rashi in his commentary to Exodus 1:1) in response to the question why the names of the tribes are repeated in this Torah reading after having been mentioned in the Book of Genesis.

  14. (Back to text) Zevachim 73a, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 110:1.

  15. (Back to text) See also Peah 7:1 (and Rambam, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 5:23) which states that an entity with a name is never considered as forgotten. The fact that its owner gave it a name indicates its constant importance in his eyes.

  16. (Back to text) Midrash Tanchuma, Bechukosai, sec. 3. See Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.

  17. (Back to text) Sichos Simchas Torah, 5689.

  18. (Back to text) Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992), p. 112-113.

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