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Parashat Shemot 5784: Aliyah by Aliyah

First Reading: Forging An Identity in Egypt

“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob.”


Four Merits

The sages[1] tell us that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of four things:

  1. They did not change their names (Reuven and Shimon came down to Egypt and Reuven and Shimon were redeemed).
  2. They did not change their language—they continued to speak in Hebrew.
  3. They barred themselves from speaking evil about one another (lashon hara).
  4. They barred themselves from improper sexual conduct.

There is a principle that whenever we are presented with a list of reasons, the final reason carries the most weight. In our case, this means that their guarding of the sexual covenant[2] was most instrumental in retaining their identity and making the redemption possible.

Four Merits and Havayah

Since there are 4 merits enumerated, it is natural that we see how they correspond to the four letters of Havayah, God’s essential Name.


yud (י) wisdom they did not change their names
hei (ה) understanding they did not change their language
vav (ו) beauty they barred themselves from speaking evil about one another
hei (ה) kingdom they barred themselves from improper sexual conduct


Let us explain this correspondence.

Yud and hei: The first two merits follow the same formula “They did not change….” This illustrates that indeed the first two letters of Havayahyud and hei—are an independent pair; they form a holy Name in themselves, pronounced Kah (י־ה).[3] These two letters correspond to the intellectual faculties, wisdom and understanding. Immutability—the possibility of remaining static and unchanging—is a quality of mindfulness and resoluteness of one’s intellectual power. The Jewish people’s ability to remain unchanged emulates God’s transcendent aspect, about which the prophet says, “I, Havayah, have not changed and you the children of Jacob have not perished.”[4]

Yud: Furthermore, in Hebrew, an object’s name (i.e., a proper noun) is its most essential predicate, closest to the thing-in-and-of-itself (the etzem, in Hebrew). Likewise, the sefirah of wisdom is the first revelation of Divinity, God’s first and most essential predicate, which is inseparable from Himself. For this reason, the letter yud has the form of a point, like the first dot of ink[5] formed when a pen touches paper and the beginning of the revelation of thought through writing occurs.

Hei: The Hebrew language is the language used by God to create the world. Put another way, the power inherent in it creates being. Similarly, the first hei in Havayah represents understanding and the World of Creation, the beginning of being. In Kabbalah, the five sources of the letters are situated in understanding.[6]

Vav and hei: In the original Hebrew, the final two merits also begin with the same phrase, “They barred themselves from…” (שֶלֹא הָיָה בַּהֵן…). Again, the last two letters of Havayah form a pair and represent the revealed dimensions of this Name.

Vav: Guarding one’s tongue and never speaking evil about another is the hallmark of the six sefirot represented by the letter vav in Havayah (the value of vav is 6)—even though they are six, they are represented by a single sefirah (beauty) and a single letter (vav). Beauty is a state of composition, in which even opposites come together to form a more complete whole. The sense of unity between the Jews in Egypt prevented them from speaking ill of one another.

Hei: The final hei represents the sefirah of kingdom and the nukva, the feminine principle. Sexual purity and family purity is first and foremost dependent on the woman (and the feminine aspect of the husband). The sages learn that this trait was in the merit of our matriarch Sarah, “Sarah descended to Egypt and barred her sexuality, and all the Jewish women followed in her merit and were barred too.”

Thus, the four merits that shielded our forefathers from being swallowed by the abominations of Egypt correspond to the four letters of Havayah.

All in the First Verse

Furthermore, these four merits are alluded to in the first verse of our parshah:

These are the names of the children of Israel coming into Egypt, with Jacob, each came with his household.

The first two words, “These are the names,” allude to the origin of the fourth and most important merit, that they barred themselves from improper sexual relations. The value of these two words in Hebrew (וְאֵלֶה שְׁמוֹת) exactly equals the value of the Hebrew idiom for familial peace and harmony, שְׁלוֹם בַּיִת![7] The letters in “peace” (שָׁלוֹם), appear in these two words explicitly, וְאֵלֶה שְׁמוֹת. The remaining letters, אהות, spell the word “And you” (וְאָתָּה) or “[sexual] craving” (תַּאֲוָה).


“The names of the Children of Israel” alludes of course to how they retained their names. The sages describe this (in Aramaic) as “Reuven and Shimon descended, Reuven and Shimon ascended.” The initials of the Aramaic words for “descended” (נַחְתּוּן) and “ascended” (סַלְקוּן) spell the word “miracle” (נֵס), indicating that Hebrew names contain the miraculous power of the world of Emanation to bring a person out of exile.[8]


“Coming into Egypt” suggests that they did not change their language. The commentaries ask why the verb “coming” is in the present tense (הַבָּאִים) and not in the more appropriate past tense (אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ), for when the Book of Exodus begins the children of Israel had already been in Egypt for many years. This grammatical question about this word suggests that it indeed alludes to language. What we learn from this is that as long as a person retains his mother tongue (mama loshen, in Yiddish[9]) he continues to feel that he has just arrived from his homeland and therefore does not fall under the influence of the local culture.

On an even deeper level, the sefirah of understanding is related to space (wisdom corresponds to time—temporal order of precedence—which exists even before space). Thus, retaining their language, which as we saw is related to the sefirah of understanding also helped them retain their sense of sacred space—the Land of Israel. For the same reason, the Jewish people continued to be known as Hebrews throughout their exile in Egypt, a name that has meaning only in the Land of Israel (it means literally, someone who has crossed the river, specifically the Jordan River).


“With Jacob” alludes to the merit of barring themselves from speaking evil about one another. Jacob is the archetypal soul of beauty, which earlier we saw corresponds to this merit. The Torah describes Jacob (before his sojourn with his uncle, Laban) as “An earnest man dwelling in tents [of Torah].” Before his encounter with Laban, Jacob did not know how to act fraudulently.[10] In the Tikunei Zohar, the sefirah of beauty is described as “the body.” The Jewish people are likened to the organs of a single body. As long as their sense of identity is strong—that they are all “with Jacob”—they will not hurt one another, just as the left hand will not cut the right hand, as long as the mind is working, and both hands identify themselves as parts of the same organism.


Finally, “each came with his household,” explicitly corresponds to the merit of family purity and barring themselves from improper sexual conduct. A woman is called her husband’s household (בֵּיתוֹ). Even a couple that lives in Egypt, which in Hebrew literally means “constricting,” symbolizing the trying and constricting nature of their surroundings, as long as they remain unconditionally and endlessly devoted to one another, will emerge with wealth and possessions as did the Jewish people from Egypt. This was the oath God made Abraham when he revealed the nature of the exile in Egypt to him.

Indeed, the gematria of the 3 words “each came with his household” (אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ) is exactly 3 times “Abraham” (אַבְרָהָם). Abraham himself is the archetypal soul of loving-kindness and love, indicating that love between husband and wife can overcome all forms of spiritual and physical Egypt. The endless love between a husband and wife is a reflection of their endless love for God.


(from Sha’ashu’im Yom Yom, vol. 1, pp. 196ff.)



Second Reading: Moses’ Incarnations

“When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he was like a son to her. She named him Moses, for she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’”


Moses as God’s image in Adam

Now let’s turn to the story of Moses’ many reincarnations. We said that on the one hand Moses’ soul is eternal, meaning that it is super-temporal. On the other hand, Moses’ soul manifests or appears in every generation, and especially every fifty years.

Since Moses’ strongest characteristic is denoted by his statement, “And we are nothing,” his essential character trait is nothingness (related to his humility). Nothingness in this context goes together with Moses being the “man of Elokim” (אִישׁ הָאֶלֹקִים), which we saw earlier, indicating that his soul is rooted in Elokim. Adam was created in God’s image, specifically, in “the image of Elokim” (צֶלֶם אֱלֹקִים). This is to say, that in a manner of speaking, Adam the first man was created in the image of Moses, as are all of mankind who continue to cling to the image of God in themselves. Indeed, the Arizal says that Adam reached the level of the wisdom of the world of Emanation and that is the same level that Moses reached. So the first manifestation of Moses’ soul was in Adam’s image of God.

Moses as Abel

Adam had two sons at first, Abel and Cain. In terms of their character, Abel belonged to the right axis of the sefirot, as he was a man of loving-kindness, while Cain belonged to the sefirot’s left axis, as he was a man of might and harsh judgment. Moses’ soul was manifest in Abel. Now, even though Cain killed Abel, it does not mean that he is entirely wicked. Cain also had goodness in him. This goodness appears from time to time in those righteous souls who also belonged to Cain’s spiritual lineage (such as Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law). Cain’s goodness will have a marked effect just before the coming of Mashiach (which the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained is the task of our generation) in the prophet Elijah whose task it is to announce the coming redemption.

Abel and Cain in every soul

As one reads the Arizal, one sees that in essence, every Jewish soul has two components: a right-side component that stems from Abel and a left-side component that comes from Cain/Elijah. At the end of the exile, Elijah’s role will be to bring peace to the world. Indeed, as documented in the Book of Kings, Elijah was a zealot during his life. Interestingly, Moses also began his life as a zealot when he killed the Egyptian. It is explained that in the spiritual dimension, Moses was killing the element of Cain in the Egyptian, claiming retribution on how Cain had killed Abel, Moses’ previous incarnation. Despite his being a zealot, Moses killed the Egyptian with a holy name, thereby allowing his soul to return as a convert (the Egyptian's soul united with that of Jethro, also from the source of Cain, who converted to Judaism). Contrast this with what the Arizal says about Pinchas who killed Zimri. Pinchas, whom the sages identify as Elijah himself,[11] killed Zimri physically and on purpose did not do so with a holy Name.

Moses as Seth and his descendants

After Cain murdered Abel, Adam and Eve had a third son, Seth, whom the Torah refers to as being "instead of Abel," thus alluding to his being a reincarnation of Abel. Thus, Moses' soul, which initially had been in Abel, returned in Seth. The Arizal notes that Moses’ name (in Hebrew, מֹשֶׁה) is an acronym for Moses-Seth-Abel (מֹשֶׁה שֵׁת הֶבֶל).

From Seth, Moses' soul was reincarnated in Noah and then in Noah’s son Shem. Since the world started anew after the flood, Noah is in a sense like a second Adam. His son Shem is like Seth. Thus, the reincarnation in Noah and Shem echoes the initial manifestation of Moses’ soul in Adam and Seth. After Shem, Moses’ soul manifested as Moses himself.

So far we have seen seven manifestations of Moses’ soul: Elokim, Adam, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, and Moses. All sevens are endeared. The sages also stress that Moses himself is the seventh generation from Abraham. This is the mystical line of the reincarnations of Moses’ soul until Moses himself.

Moses’ later Biblical reincarnations

After Moses passes away, his soul continues to reincarnate in other prophets. Among the early prophets, he incarnates as Achiyah the Shiloni who prophecized about the splitting of the nation into two kingdoms governed by King Solomon’s son Rechavam and the first king of the new Northern Kingdom, Yerovam. In the Book of Kings, we learn that not only did Achiyah prophecize the splitting of the nation, but he was also the one who gave Yerovam the legitimacy to pursue this split and to become the leader of the Northern Kingdom. He signed the constitution of the Northern Kingdom, of Yerovam. As great as he was, because he gave legitimacy to Yerovam and his kingdom, the sages consider it to be an unconscious sin that he had to rectify. He did this by later coming back to teach Rabbi Shimon bar Yocahi and the Ba’al Shem Tov, the two great teachers of the Torah’s inner dimension. Even though Achiyah’s name means to sew together, he tore the kingdoms apart. Therefore his rectification was to teach the Torah’s inner dimension which unifies, by bringing the various and seemingly contradictory opinions of the sages together.

After Achiyah, Moses’ soul incarnated in the prophet Zecharyah son of Yehoyada.[12] This is not the well-known author of the book of Zechariah (who lived at the time of the beginning of the second Temple). The one we are referring to was a High Priest, a prophet, and he was also a judge. He was in the time of Yo’ash, the king of Judah. As an infant, Yo’ash was saved by Zecharyah’s father (Yehoyada) and mother (Yehosheva) and hidden in a secret chamber just above the Holy of Holies in the Temple. His stepmother, Atalyah the woman who was the queen at the time, wanted to kill all the male lineage of Judah. In the end, Yehoyada led a revolution against Atalyah and Yo'ash became king at the age of 7. As long as Zecharyah’s father, the High Priest Yehoyada was alive, Yo’ash followed the Torah. But, once Yehoyada passed away, the ministers came and bowed down to him, claiming that he was a god for being able to survive in the Holy of Holies. This idolatry led to more idolatry throughout the nation. Yehoyada’s son was Zecharyah. Zecharyah chastised the people for leaving the way of God and worshiping idols. The king was so angry at him that he had the people kill him in the Temple.

His dying words were, “God should see this and demand [revenge].”[13] This indeed happened right away, as in the next war Yo’ash was killed. But this was not the end of it. The sages relate[14] that Zecharyah’s blood continued to boil for over 200 years until the Temple was destroyed by Nevuzadran. The latter asked what this boiling blood was. At first, the Jews in the Temple would not tell him, so he started killing various things to see if it would stop boiling. When it did not, he continued slaughtering the sages of the generation, and then priests, and finally young children. But the blood would not stop boiling over. Nevuzaradan asked God: Do you want me to kill the entire Jewish people for this blood? God told the blood to stop boiling. Eventually, because of what he saw, Nevuzaradan converted. The Arizal identifies Zecharyah with Moses.

This of course raises a lot of questions, beginning with how could God let Zecharyah be murdered and this whole terrible chain of events be set in motion? The answer is offered that when he chastised the people, Zecharyah who was Moses’ incarnation, actually abandoned his sense of absolute humility revealed by the fact that he stood "above the people" and chastised them.

The partzuf of Moses’ incarnations

After this incarnation as Zecharyah, Moses came back many generations later as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Finally, he will come back as the soul of the Mashiach.

So altogether we saw that Moses has seven incarnations until he actually appears as Moses. Then he was Achiyah and then Zecharyah; then Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and finally the Mashiach. So altogether there are eleven different manifestations of Moses, which we can now correspond with the sefirot.



image of Elokim






















Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai





Moses and Isaiah

A final point we would like to make about Moses relates to chapter 53 in Isaiah, mentioned above. This is a well-known chapter describing the suffering of God’s servant. Some of the commentaries state that God’s servant here refers to the Jewish people, as a whole. The Arizal though says that this chapter is about Moses and his incarnations throughout history. Whenever it says, “my servant” (עַבְדִּי), it is referring to God’s servant Moses.

In verse 9, Isaiah describes that this suffering servant of God places his grave with the wicked. The Arizal explains that this is firstly referring to the fact that Moses buried himself. But the notion that he buries himself with the wicked provides a source for the fact that Moses, as it were, buries himself in every generation by coming back in a particular sage of the generation to guide the wicked. Even though it is like burying himself anew every time, he does this because of his absolute devotion to the Jewish people and to redeeming every single Jew.


(from a class given on the 7th of Adar 5777)



Third Reading: Why Did Moses Run Away?

“…Moses fled from Pharaoh’s presence…”

Learning from Moses about Nullification with Confidence

We might ask: Moses is a leader, he is the king of Israel, and a king cannot be a coward—not even a holy coward. A king must perform all tasks, and pass all challenges. We see that in the end of his days – at the age of 120 – Moses rose and fought like a young man, until his last day, against Sichon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan. In the war against Midian, he sent soldiers to fight, to avenge God’s vengeance against Midian (even though he knew that after this mission was complete, his life would end). We see that Moses is very strong.  We may think that a person who is completely nullified before God tends to not have any self and therefore cannot exhibit confidence and fulfill the role of a king. So how does Moses succeed at doing both?

The same question applies to all of us, each in our own way. On the one hand, a person needs to exercise self-nullification before God, but in those areas in which he holds leadership roles, he must act with confidence. This could be your family if you are a parent; it could be a classroom, if you are a teacher, etc. In these contexts, you cannot be nullified. This is not the way to bring Mashiach. When it comes to the redemption, and we all are part of the effort to bring it, the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “Do all that is within your power!” This requires confidence.

“Moses”—Being Residing Within Nulllification

The answer to our question is that one’s confidence represents one’s sense of being, while one’s nullification represents one’s non-being, one’s ayin. These two have to paradoxically exist together. We see this in Moses’ name, מֹשֶׁה. The “frame” is the letters mem and hei, which together spell the word “nothing” (מָה), as in the verse, “And we are nothing, why should you complain about us” (וְנַחְנוּ מָה כִּי תּלּינוּ עָלֵינוּ). Inside the frame is the letter shin (ש), which represents Moses’ confidence in God that he can fulfill his mission.

What does the letter shin represent? In Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Formation), shin stands for fire (אֵשׁ), but it also stands for “being” (יֵשׁ). On the one hand, Moses is nothingness (מָה), he is entirely nullified. But on the inside, he is fire, he is substance (יֵשׁ); his essence reflects holy being, the true substance of God in man. It is this fire that burns within him that gives him the power to lead the people of Israel. There is a saying that in his heart, every chasid needs to maintain a flaming fire (even though externally he acts with self-nullification). These are Moses’ two dimensions. Extremely Great (before the Egyptians) and Extremely Humble (before his brothers)

Moses’ two dimensions are emphasized by the fact that the sages say that Moses is commonly referred to as “the man” in the Torah. Two verses stand out. One verse appears before the Exodus from Egypt, when Moses is already leading the people and inflicting the Ten Plagues on Egypt. These actions clearly originate from the holy essence that resides in Moses, not from his self-nullification. This verse reads, “and the man Moses was extremely great in the Land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the eyes of the people.”[15] Much later, we find the more well-known verse, “and the man Moses was extremely humble, more than any man upon the face of the earth.”[16]

We can see how these two verses should be compared. Against his enemies, in the land of Egypt, he is described as extremely great. But when it comes to his relationship with his sister and brother, there, he is extremely humble. We can learn a very important moral lesson: within the family—with those who are closest to you—you should not be offended by anyone, with siblings, one needs to be very humble. But against Pharaoh, one needs to be “extremely great” and exercise confidence.

Self-Nullification: The Beginning of Moses’ Path

When there are such polar opposites in the psyche, it is difficult for them to be expressed simultaneously. Internally, they exist together but cannot be seen in a person’s behavior together. When Moses flees, as we will see, he is not forceful. When he is forceful against all difficulties, we do not see him fleeing.

Regarding Moses’ life, self-nullification is normally exhibited first. There seems to be an exception in the story that we have dealt with in an article titled, “the First Steps of the Redeemer of Israel,”[17] when, because of his solidarity with his enslaved brothers, he first exhibits his confidence and kills an Egyptian that was torturing one of the Hebrews and only then does he flee from Pharaoh. Often it happens that a person does something bold and then realizes what he’s done. He realizes he has done something crazy, comes down to reality, and if he is still sane wonders, ‘What have I done?!’ Not that Moses regretted his action, but he does flee.

The Burning Bush and Moses’ Confidence

After Moses flees from Pharaoh, he finds favor in God’s eyes. The Almighty wants to appoint him as the redeemer of the Jewish people—He is the first redeemer; he is the final redeemer—and He calls him to the desert. Moses argues with God for seven days: God wants to send appoint him, and Moses refuses. Which side of Moses’ is refusing? It is his self-nullification, his insignificance. Finally, Moses says, “Please send he whom You will send.” This appointment is not at relevant to me, send Aaron, bring the Messiah King, someone better, it doesn't suit me. And God needs to compel him to accept the mission.

God performs a miracle for him. Take the staff and throw it on the ground and it will become a serpent. What does Moses do when his staff turns into a snake? He runs away! What does God need to tell him? To grab the snake. Not simple. Hold its tail. It’s very dangerous to hold a snake by the tail, if you hold the head, you can control it, but with a snake, it is most dangerous to hold its tail. What kind of exercise is God doing with Moses? God is an educator. Here Moses is like a child in a classroom, and the Holy, Blessed One is the teacher. The teacher wants to instill confidence in him.

God wants to reveal the energy of the letter shin in Moses’ name, the shin that we said represents his holy substance (יֵשׁ) in his title “the man” (הָאִישׁ). From the time he goes to Egypt and begins to perform miracles against Pharaoh, he needs to face great fear. All the elders that accompany him, eventually avoid entering Pharaoh’s palace. Moses too wants to flee, from fear. But God tells him “Come” (בָּא), “Come with Me, I am with you, be strong, have confidence.” God continues to give Moses more and more confidence, entrusting the success of the redemption in his hands.

From the moment that Moses is successful in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, in Giving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, at leading the people through the wilderness, he no longer exhibits his proclivity to flee. It is only in the story where his older brothers suddenly turn on him that he reveals how extremely humble he is, more than any man which was upon the face of the earth. It is not a superficial trait; it is completely authentic.

Releasing the Traumas of Early Childhood: From Paranoia to Active Confidence

How do I know that Moses always tended to flee? The first thing that happened to him in his life was that his mother hid him away. This surely registered in his subconscious: “I had to be hidden first for three months, and then placed inside a basket.” He is essentially a fugitive. Fleeing, which is nullification as well as fear, is inherently within him. Why did they hide him and put him in the river? Out of fear. This made an impression deeply rooted in his subconscious. What happens with a baby is recorded for life. However, it is written that “God seeks he who is pursued.”[18] Because Moses is pursued, he is a fugitive from infancy, God seeks him and wants to appoint him as the redeemer; turn him from fleeing to being a king.

Moses could have developed paranoia following three months of hiding and then being thrown into the river. But he develops into the archetype of an individual who exhibits self-control and is entrusted with freeing the entire Jewish people from there paranoia caused by the Egyptians, which reaches its climax at the Splitting of the Red Sea. The splitting of the Red Sea is a symbol of the psychological healing of the persecution complex. God appoints Moses to lead the people because he wants him to be an exemplar for the transformation required in life.

People carry difficult events from when they were in their mother’s womb, from when they were born, when they nursed, and sometimes even from previous incarnations. One might think that there is no way to break free from their influence. But the Torah is meant to give strength to completely break free from them, to turn everything around. And Moses provides the most important example.


(from a shiur given on the 28th of Av, 5778)


Fourth Reading: Moses’ First Revelation at the Burning Bush

“An Angel of God appeared to him in the heart of a blazing fire from the midst of a bush…’”



God’s first revelation to Moses was made at the Burning Bush. The word “bush” (סְנֶה) and “Sinai” (סִינַי)—the place where the Almighty revealed Himself through Moses to all of Israel at the Giving of the Torah—are linguistically connected. Moreover, the sages expound that linguistically, both the bush and Sinai, relate to lowliness.[19]

In the description of the revelation at the Burning Bush, we find the “bush” (סְנֶה) mentioned 5 times. The midrash provides the following explanation for this phenomenon:

Rabbi Nachman, the son of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman, says all trees have either one leaf, two, or three. The myrtle produces three and is called “a thick tree.” But the sneh has five leaves. The Holy, Blessed One said to Moses: “Israel is redeemed only by the merit of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and by your merit and Aaron’s.”

That is to say, the revelation at the Sneh was meant to convince Moses that he must participate in the redemption of Israel, for without him, one part of the five would be missing. God revealed Himself to him at the bush because in this tree where its leaves emerge, they emerge five at a time, hinting to Moses the need for the merits of the five mentioned figures.

Let’s explain further: It is known that Moses was reluctant to accept the role imposed upon him by Divine Providence and tried to reject it with various arguments. After seven days of refusals, Moses presented his final argument: “Please send the one whom you usually send.”[20] The sages explain that Moses was referring to the Messiah, but the plain meaning of his reference—that he meant his brother Aaron—can be inferred from God's response.[21]

Thus, Moses thought that a more suitable emissary than himself was Aaron, who was in Egypt at the time and likely, like Amram his father, was among the generation's leaders. The bush being pentafoliate emphasized that without Moses’ leadership, Aaron’s leadership would not be complete. Only through the merit of all five—the three Patriarchs, Aaron, and Moses—would the mission to liberate the children of Israel from Egypt succeed. Indeed, the Torah is named solely after Moses—“Remember the Torah of My servant Moses,”[22] yet Moses and Aaron (and Miriam) together redeemed the people from Egypt.[23]

The midrash quoted earlier goes on to describe five reasons why God revealed Himself to Moses in the sneh and associates them with the five instances of the word sneh. Let us now identify each of these reasons with one of the five figures whose merit led to the liberation from Egypt. Additionally, since the five figures correspond to the sefirot from loving-kindness (chesed) to acknowledgment (hod), we will also draw the correspondence with these sefirot.

There is Nowhere Devoid of the Divine Presence

“From within the bush”[24] (מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה): A non-Jew asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha: Why did the Holy, Blessed One choose to speak with Moses from within the bush? He replied: If He had spoken from a carob or sycamore tree, would you not have asked me this question [since these are “important” trees]? Still, I cannot ignore your question. Why from a bush? To teach you that there is nowhere devoid of the Divine Presence, even a bush.

To reveal that there is nowhere devoid of the Divine Presence was Abraham’s mission. Abraham began to illuminate with God’s attribute of loving-kindness,[25] which like the Divine Presence and Abraham, reaches everywhere.

The Midrash continues:

Rabbi Eliezer says: Just as the bush is the lowliest of all the trees in the world, so were Israel lowly and downtrodden in Egypt.

To teach you that even the lowliest of all lowly individuals were part of Abraham's plan to reveal that “there is nowhere empty of Him”[26] (לֵית אֲתַר פָּנוּי מִנֵּהּ).

For I have known their sorrows

Rabbi Yosi says: Just as the sneh is tougher than all other trees and any bird that enters the sneh cannot emerge unharmed, so the Egyptian bondage was harsher before God than all others in the world, as it is said, “Havayah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people.” Thus, the pain and servitude of Israel were openly known to Him who spoke, and the world was created, as it says, “For I have known their pain.”

The attribute of Isaac our father, might (gevurah), is characterized by its power of contraction. The sages expounded about the Almighty, that although we might initially think that God is not connected with the world, even more so that he does not feel or share in His creatures’ pain, Rabbi Yochanan said: “Wherever you find His greatness, you find His humility.” God's greatness is in His ability to contract, to lessen Himself as it were, to immerse Himself and experience, along with the creature, its pain.

Thorns and Roses

Just as the sneh grows both in a [watered] garden and by a river, so Israel are both in this world and in the World to Come. Alternately: Just as the sneh produces both thorns and roses, so Israel produces both righteous and wicked people.

Beauty (tiferet), Jacob’s attribute, is situated at the center of these five attributes and its special quality is the ability to sustain contrasting elements. The appeal of beauty is the in-gathering of different shades into a single whole. Likewise, the sneh can sustain opposites. It produces both thorns and roses (flowers), it grows both where there is no water—in a garden—and where water is plentiful—by a river.[27] The Nation of Israel also sustains paradoxes within it forming a complex and beautiful single congregation that contains both righteous and wicked people.

We can now take this model of the five characteristics of the sneh and relate them to the five measures of might (gevurot) that originate from the sefirah of knowledge (da’at) and extend from loving-kindness to acknowledgment.[28]

Each of the five traits of Divinity revealed through the sneh had to be “made available” to Moses so that he would agree to accept his mission. The Midrash also mentions that Moses took five steps to approach the sneh and these also correspond to these five traits of Divinity that strengthened him.


(from Einayich Berechot BeCheshbon, Shemot)



Fifth Reading:


At the end of the sixth reading, we find that “Moses and Aaron went and gathered all the elders of the Israelites. Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses and performed the signs before their eyes. And the people believed.”

Wonders of wonders! Not only does Moses, the Messiah who is going to redeem them come, but he says he is the Messiah, and everyone believes him. The final verse, “And the people believed; and when they heard that God had remembered the Israelites, and that He had seen their suffering; then they bowed low in homage.”

There are three instances in which the Israelites are described as believing. The first is here in our verse, “And the people believed.” The second time is after the Splitting of the Sea, “They believed in God and in Moses His servant.”[29] The third time happens during the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. God promises Moses that, “They will also believe in you forever.”[30]

These three instances correspond to the Ba’al Shem Tov’s famous three-stage process of submission, separation, and sweetening. In our verse we find belief that displays submission. At the splitting of the Red Sea when they saw the Egyptians dead, etc., they believed in a manner that reflects the stage of separation—having now understood fully that God had discriminated between them and the Egyptians. Finally, at Mt. Sinai, they reached a state of sweetening in their faith, which now extended not only to Moses but to the reappearance of Moses in every generation.


נקפוץ לסוף: "וילך משה ואהרן ויאספו את כל זקני בני ישראל", כמו שה' אמר לו, "וידבר אהרן את כל הדברים אשר דבר הוי' אל משה ויעש האֹתֹת לעיני העם. ויאמן העם". פלאי פלאות, לא רק שמשיח בא, אלא אומר שהוא משיח ומאמינים לו. ששי מסתיים "ויאמן העם וישמעו כי פקד הוי' את בני ישראל וכי ראה את ענים ויקדו וישתחו". אנחנו יודעים שיש שלש אמונות – "ויאמן העם", "ויאמינו בהוי' ובמשה עבדו", "וגם בך יאמינו לעולם".









הווארט ששלש האמונות הן הכנעה-הבדלה-המתקה. כאן האמונה של ההכנעה, בקריעת ים סוף כשראו את המצרים מתים וכו' יש אמונה של הבדלה, להבדיל מכל דבר אחר, ובסוף "וגם בך יאמינו לעולם", כולל אתפשטותא דמשה בכל דרא ודרא, היינו ההמתקה לעולם ועד.

בכל אופן, לנו נוגע שכאן מגיעים לאמונה של הכנעה, שפועלת "ויקדו וישתחו", התבלטות מתוך אמונה והודאה והכנעה. יש בטול-ענוה-הכנעה-שפלות, הכנעה היא בהוד והבטוי שלה הוא "ויקדו וישתחו". מחר קוראים שהגואל בא, מאמינים לו, ואז מתחילות כל הצרות ב"שביעי", התחדשות גזרות וכו', עד שמשה רבינו בכלל מתחרט – ההמשך איום ונורא, אבל זה "ששי".


But before Moses reaches Egypt, something very strange happens. Some angel in the form of a giant serpent comes and swallows him, wanting to kill him. Since we have identified Moses as the Mashiach of his generation, since he is in mortal danger, we associate him with Mashiach son of Joseph, who is always in danger of being killed. The Torah tells us that they stopped at an inn on the way and God met him and sought to kill him. Here the Torah refers to God as Havayah—the name of mercy—and He wants to kill Moses. Is there anything even similar to this elsewhere that the Name Havayah wants to kill someone? The Lord sent him, and suddenly in the middle of the way, the Lord meets him and wants to kill him. What happens? Thank God there is a very wise woman, 'a woman of understanding,' 'from the Lord a woman of understanding,' who immediately understands. She saw that the serpent was swallowing him first from the head to the covenant and then from the feet to the covenant. She understood that it was related to the covenant, and grabbed that the son who was just born and was to be called Eliezer – it is not written that in this covenant they called him Eliezer, but apparently here they called him 'one name Eliezer' – was not circumcised." ראינו את ההתחלה והסוף, שהוא הולך ושמאמינים לו, אבל באמצע יש סיפור מוזר מאד משהו שאין לו דוגמה. למדנו הרגע שכל הסיפורים מפי הגבורה. יש כאן סיפור שאין דוגמתו בכל התנ"ך, סיפור הזוי לחלוטין. משיח כעת בא, צריך להיות שמח מאד – משיח אותיות ישמח, ה' שמח עם המשיח ומשיח שמח – ופתאום באמצע הדרך בא איזה מלאך בדמות נחש ענקי ובולע אותו, רוצה להרוג את המשיח. משיח כאן בסכנת מות, זהו משיח בן יוסף, שאולי יהרגו אותו בכלל. "ויהי בדרך במלון [הוא הגיע לאיזו נקודת חניה בדרך שלו, תוך כדי שהוא בא] ויפגשהו הוי' [לא כתוב אפילו מלאך אלא ה'.] ויבקש המתו [ה', הוי' שם הרחמים, רוצה להרוג אותו. מה זה?! יש משהו שאפילו דומה לזה?! ה' שלח אותו, ופתאום באמצע הדרך ה' פוגש אותו ורוצה להרוג אותו. מה קורה? ברוך ה' יש אשה חכמה מאד, "אשה משכלת", "מהוי' אשה משכלת", שמיד מבינה. היא ראתה שהנחש בולע אותו קודם מהראש לברית ואחר כך מהרגלים לברית. היא הבינה שקשור לברית, ותפסה שהבן שרק עכשיו נולד ועתיד להקרא אליעזר – לא כתוב שבברית הזו קראו לו אליעזר, אבל כנראה כאן קראו לו "שם האחד אליעזר" – לא נימול.


"God commanded to set out on the journey, and Moses thought it would be dangerous for him. It is the third day after the circumcision, requiring our attention, Israel. Moses decided in his judgment that it was not necessary to circumcise him. They arrived at the inn, and it was still dangerous according to logic – the inn was not for staying there for three days – but he needed to circumcise. Generally, this does not enter the story of 'And on the eighth day he shall be circumcised.' If the eighth day has already passed, if the rabbi said that the child had jaundice, then it's not terrible if there's a delay. Here it implies that the eight days have passed but he arrived at the inn and now he can circumcise, and God is angry with him and wants to kill him. This whole story needs Chazal, needs Rashi. What does the wise woman do? 'And Zipporah took a flint [two letters from her name, powerful force from her name – flint is also very strong, personal power, like fire in a flint] and circumcised her son [from here we learn that a woman can be a circumciser].' And she cast it at his feet, and said [to her son, according to Rashi] 'Surely a bloody husband art thou to me [You wanted to kill my husband. We learn that there is testimony that until old age and senility the woman calls her husband 'my bridegroom.' A nice and recommended custom. According to Rashi 'blood' means shedding of blood, you would have killed my husband, but according to Onkelos the interpretation is entirely different, 'because of the blood of circumcision, this husband was obligated to me,' as said in the circumcision 'By your blood live, by your blood live,' by the merit of the blood the bridegroom, Moses our teacher, was given to me. According to this, she is not even looking so much at the son. According to Rashi, she looks at the son and says you wanted to kill my husband, and according to Onkelos, she just concludes that by the merit of the blood of circumcision I got back my husband. She said this before God left him. And what happened?] 'Then He let him go [This is the relaxation we talked about earlier. Apparently, there is a sign here of Moses' prophecy from this point on.] Then she said, a bloody husband because of the circumcision [Rashi: 'My husband was going to be murdered because of the circumcision, circumcision is a matter of cause, and ‘because of’ serves as a preposition, and Onkelos translated blood for the blood of circumcision'].' So, the expression 'a bloody husband' is repeated twice, first 'a bloody husband thou art to me' and at the end, after 'Then He let him go,' 'a bloody husband because of the circumcision.'" ה' צוה לצאת לדרך ומשה עשה חושבים שיהיה מסוכן לו. היום שלישי למילה, דרוש לזושא-ישראל שלנו. משה החליט בשיקול דעתו שלא צריך למול אותו. הגיעו למלון, ועדיין לפי הסברא מסוכן – המלון לא כדי להשאר שם שלשה ימים – אבל היה צריך למול. בכלל לא נכנס כאן לסיפור "וביום השמיני ימול". אם כבר עבר היום השמיני, אם הרב אמר שלילד היתה צהבת, אז לא נורא אם מתעכבים. כאן משמע שעברו שמונת הימים אך הגיע למלון וכעת יכול למול, וה' כועס עליו ורוצה להרוג אותו. כל הסיפור צריך חז"ל, צריך רש"י. מה האשה החכמה עושה?]. ותקח צפרה צר [שתי אותיות מהשם שלה, פה-צר, כח מאד חזק מהשם שלה – צר הוא גם מאד חזק, כח עצמי, כמו אש בצור החלמיש] ותמל את בנה [מכאן שאשה יכולה להיות מוהל.] ותגע לרגליו ותאמר [לבן שלה, לפי רש"י] כי חתן דמים אתה לי [רצית להרוג את החתן שלי. למדנו שיש עדות שעד זקנה ושיבה האשה קוראת לאיש החתן שלי. מנהג יפה ומומלץ. לפי רש"י "דמים" היינו שפיכות דמים, היית הורג את החתן שלי, אבל לפי אונקלוס הפירוש אחר לגמרי, 'ארי בדמא דמהולתא הדין יתהייב חתנא לי', כמו שאומרים בברית מילה "בדמיך חיי בדמיך חיי", בזכות הדמים החתן שלי, משה רבינו, ניתן לי. לפי זה היא אפילו לא כל כך מסתכלת על הבן. לפי רש"י מסתכלת על הבן ואומרת שרצית להרוג את החתן שלי ולפי אונקלוס רק מסיקה את התובנה שבזכות דם המילה קבלתי בחזרה את החתן שלי. היא אמרה זאת לפני שה' עזב אותו. ומה קרה?] וירף ממנו [זו הרפיה שדברנו עליה קודם. כנראה יש כאן סימן לנבואה של משה מכאן ואילך.] אז אמרה חתן דמים למולות [רש"י: 'חתני היה נרצח על דבר המילה, למולות שם דבר הוא והל' משמש לשון על, ואונקלוס תרגם דמים על דם המלה'.]". אם כן, הביטוי "חתן דמים" חוזר פעמיים, קודם "חתן דמים אתה לי" ובסוף, אחרי "וירף ממנו", "חתן דמים למולות".




[1]. Psikta DeRav Kahana 11:6 on the verse in Song of Songs 4:12.

[2]. The Hebrew term used by the sages to describe the guarding of the sexual conduct is גְדוּר עֶרְוָה, whose value is the product of “Eve” (חוה) and Havayah (י־הוה), or 19 times 26. The value of “Eve,” 19, is also the value of the letters used to fill Havayah in its alef-filling (יוד הא ואו הא). The total value of the alef-filling is thus, 19 ┴ 26 = 45, also the value of Adam (אָדָם), representing the rectified initial (and final) reality of mankind.

[3]. See What You Need to Know About Kabbalah, pp. 148-9.

[4]. Malachi 3:6.

[5]. In Hebrew, the word for “ink” (דְיוֹ) is a permutation of the name of this letter, yud (יוֹד).

[6]. Pardes Rimonim 23:1. Arizal’s Likutei Torah, Tehilim 53.

[7]. Known today colloquially as “Shalom in the Home.”

[8]. This is true today as it was then. If a person is experiencing special difficulty, it would be proper for him to insist on being called by his Hebrew name, especially if he or she has until now been known by a non-Hebrew equivalent.

[9]. Today, for many Jews outside the Land of Israel, mama loshen may indeed be Hebrew, while in a strange case of historical reversal, to retain an autonomous identity in the Land of Israel, free of the negative influence of the anti-religious establishment, it may be that this is Yiddish.

[10]. Because of his earnest nature, his mother Rivkah had to motivate him to steal Esau’s blessings and instructed him in all the details of how to succeed.

[11]. Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 47; Zohar 2:190a.

[12]. See 2 Chronicles ch. 24.

[13]. Ibid, verse 22.

[14]. Eichah Rabbah 2:4.

[15]. Exodus 11:3.

[16]. Numbers 12:3.

[17]. See Malchut Yisrael vol. 3.

[18]. Ecclesiastes 3:15.

[19]. Shemot Rabbah 3:2.

[20]. Exodus 4:13.

[21]. See Ibid. v. 14.

[22]. Malachi 3:22.

[23]. Michah 6:4, “I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”

[24]. Exodus 3:4.

[25]. Sefer HaBahir states, “The attribute of loving-kindness said: All of Abraham’s life, I did not need to serve my Creator [Abraham brought loving-kindness into the world].”

[26]. Tikkunei Zohar 57 (91b).

[27]. The Midrash mentions more examples of the sneh sustaining opposites.

[28]. See also Rebbe Isaac of Homil’s Chanah Ariel, parashat Bo.

[29]. Exodus 14:31.

[30]. Ibid. 19:9.

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