131221 – Parshat Shemot

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig



Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1

Haftarah: Isaiah 26:6-28:13, 29:22-23


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What’s in a name? “And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of the first was Shifra and the name of the second was Pu’ah…” (Shemot 1:15).

RaShI says that: “Shifra is YoCheved (the mother of Miryam, Aharon and Moshe), because Sh’miShaferet – she beautified the new born babies. And Pu’ah is Miryam, because Sh’Po’ah – she cries and speaks and coos at the child in the manner of women who try to sooth the crying babe.”

So, when we are introduced to Moshe’s mother and sister we find that they are not referred to by their given names, but, rather, by the names that described them not only as midwives, but as protectors of new born Hebrew babies.

Similarly, though we know baby Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh because: “Moshituh – I drew him from the water,” Our Midrash teaches us that Moshe had many Hebrew names. The Me’am Lo’ez on Shemot 2:10 quotes a number of Midrashic sources and provides us with an amazing teaching: “Our sages have taught that Moshe was called by many names.

  • His father Amram called him Chaver, because of him [Moshe] he was “NitChaber – he was reunited” with his wife (RaShI to chapter 2 verse 1). And this was a worthy name because he also “reunited” Israel with their Father in heaven.
  • “And his mother YoCheved called him YeKuti’el, because, I had “Tikvah – hope” that Hashem would return my womb for birthing.
  • “His sister Miryam called him Yered, because she “YaRda – went down” to the Nile and saw what was to become of him. That name was also worthy because “HeReed – he brought down” the Torah to Israel from the heavens, also because the Manna “came down” in his merit. She also referred to him as Tuvya, because he was Tov – good.
  • “And his brother Aharon called him Avi Zanu’ach, because “Avi Zanach – my father abandoned” my mother and remarried her and Moshe was born. And this name was also a worthy one because he caused Israel to “abandon” their idolatrous ways and also because his prayers caused Hashem to “abandon” His punishment of Israel (after the sin of the golden calf).
  • “His nursemaids called him Avi Socho because he was the “father of the prophets” who are referred to as Sochim – agents.
  • “His grandfather Kahat called him Avigdor because in his merit Pharaoh “Gadar – restricted” his decree to throw the male children into the Nile.
  • “And the Children of Israel called him Shemaya for in Moshe’s days did Hashem “Shema – hear” our cries.
  • “And from all these names, he was called by the name Moshe, which was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh.”

None of the [above mentioned] names are mentioned in the five books of the Torah. And even Hashem referred to him only as Moshe. This is suggestive of Pharaoh’s daughter’s greatness, for she is considered as if she was his mother. And from this we learn that an orphan that is raised in a home that does not embitter him with harsh words is considered as if he was born to that house. “And Hashem said to the daughter of Pharaoh: Even though Moshe was not your son, you treated him as one, so will I treat you accordingly. I will call you Batya – the daughter of G-d.”

The names in both the written and oral Torah aid or deepen our understanding of the people that these names describe. We have just seen how the true characters of Yocheved, Miryam and Moshe are revealed by the choice of names that are given to them. The metamorphosis that took place when Avram became Avraham, or YeKuti’el became Moshe is an important link to our perception of who these people really were.

Likewise, the names that are attributed to Hashem are very significant. At the beginning of next week’s Parsha Va’Eira, (Shemot 6:1-2), Hashem says to Moshe: “…I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov as Kel Shakai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make myself known to them.”

Why the different names of Hashem? Kel Shakai or Elokim denotes the Master of Justice and/or the Master of Nature. Bereishit Bara Elokim Et HaShamayim V’Et HaAretz – In the beginning Elokim [the Master of Nature and Law] created the heavens and earth). Up to this point in Jewish history, Hashem was the Creator and He kept His word precisely. But then Hashem revealed another aspect of Himself. The four letter name of Hashem (which we never pronounce) denotes timeless mercy. In His redemption of Israel from Egypt, whether or not Israel deserved it, Hashem exhibited a side of Himself that even the Patriarchs were unaware of.

Our Parsha alludes to this new side of Hashem when He reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush (chapter 3). He explains that He will now fulfill all the promises that He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, and that Moshe will serve as the agent of His benevolence. In verses 13 and 14 we find the following conversation: Moshe said to Hashem, “Behold when I come to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you, ‘and they say, ‘What is His name?’ – what shall I say to them?” Hashem answered Moshe, Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh – I Shall Be As I Shall Be.” And He said, “So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘I Shall Be’ has sent me to you.”

This cryptic name of G-d has been pondered often by students of the Torah. The interpretation that speaks closest to my heart I found in a book called Orchat Tzaddikim – The Ways Of The Righteous. The (anonymous) author writes in the chapter called The Gate of Truth, that the word Eheyeh – I Shall Be appears in the Five Books of Moshe 21 times, and its Gematriya (numeric value) is also 21. Aleph = 1, Hey = 5, Yod = 10 and Hey = 5. The total numeric value of all the word Eheyeh in the Torah appear 21 times 21 the Gematriya of Eheyeh, equals a total of 441. The Hebrew word Emet (truth) also equals 441 (Aleph = 1, Mem = 40, and Tav = 400).

Hashem said to Moshe that when the Children of Israel ask you what Hashem’s Name is, tell them “Truth” has sent me to you, and they will understand.

Just as scientists have discovered that DNA carries pieces of our personalities and behavior patterns, so too, do our Hebrew names carry a world of unfulfilled potential for us to release.

What’s in a name, everything, personality, character, essence and even hope. Let us all live up to our names and the true traits and potentials that are contained in each of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120707 – Parshat Balak



Reb Yosil Rosenzweig



BaMidbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9

Haftarah – Micah 5:6-6:8



In this week’s portion we again examine the Ko’ach HaDibur (the power of speech). On the Israelite’s final journeys toward Eretz Yisra’el (the land of Israel), and after the defeat of the armies of Og king of Bashan and Sichon king of Emor, Balak (king of Midian and Mo’av), realizes that Am Yisra’el (the nation of Israel) cannot be militarily defeated in the conventional manner. He sends for Bil’am, a Mesopotamian prophet who has the ability to place powerful curses on people and nations, so that Bil’am’s power of speech might be the impetus for Israel’s downfall. HaShem does not give Bil’am permission to curse Israel but after some cajoling He does allow Bil’am to journey with king Balak’s emissaries to Mo’av.

Bilam saddles his donkey and sets out. HaShem sends an angel to block the way and three times Bil’am beats his donkey for he cannot see the vision of the angel. Suddenly a miracle occurred, “VaYiftach HaShem Et Pi HaAton – And HaShem opened the mouth of the donkey” (BaMidbar 22:28-35).

Over the past four weeks, each Parsha has had a focus on the gift of speech, which to many commentators is the meaning of humans being created “in the image of HaShem.” At the end of Parshat Beha’alotcha (BaMidbar 12:1-14), Miriam and Aharon speak against Moshe’s relations with his wife and Miriam is punished with Tzara’at (leprosy); In Parshat Shlach Lecha (BaMidbar 13:1-14:44), ten spies bring back an evil report of Eretz Yisra’el and Am Yisra’el’s negative reaction triggers their forty year sojourn in the desert; In Parshat Korach (BaMidbar 16:1-35), Korach speaks against Moshe and Aharon which instigates a rebellion against Moshe’s authority, which results in Korach and his assembly being swallowed up by the earth; and finally, in last week’s Parsha, Moshe struck the water-bearing rock rather than speaking to it, and lost his privilege to enter Eretz Yisra’el.

There is a very interesting Mishna in Pirke Avot (The Ethics of our Ancestors – an ethical treatise). Chapter 5, Mishnah 8 reads: “Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat, at twilight. They are: 1: The mouth of the earth (Korach); 2: The mouth of the well (Miriam); 3: The mouth of the donkey (Bilam); 4: The rainbow (No’ach); 5: The Manna (Moshe); 6: The staff (Moshe); 7: The Shamir (King Solomon); 8: The alphabet (Hebrew); 9: The inscription (on the Tablets); 10: The Tablets (Yisra’el).”

The universe’ creation ended with the Shabbat, which began at sundown on Friday, but Bein HaShmashot ([literally “between the illuminating orbs,” or twilight] the time between the setting of the sun and darkness) is a difficult time period to define. Does this time period belong to Friday, or does it belong to Shabbat? The mystical quality of Bein HaShmashot is the reason we Jews begin Shabbat at sunset on Friday evening and end it after the stars appear in the heavens on Saturday night. It is during this time that HaShem created the last necessary items needed to make the world perfect. He knew that there would be times when seemingly miraculous events had to take place, but He wanted them included in the natural order of creation. Therefore, these special creations were formed Bein HaShmashot, at the very end of the sixth day, between dusk and darkness in that mystical time that is so hard to define. Let us review these ten manifestations.

  1. Pi HaAretz (the mouth of the earth) – “With this you shall know that HaShem has sent me to do all these acts, that it has not been out of my own heart. If these men die as all men [would normally] do, and that the destiny of all men is theirs, then you shall know that HaShem has not sent me” (BaMidbar 16:28-29).

When the earth opened its mouth (BaMidbar 16:28-33) and swallowed Korach and his assembly, it was not an earthquake or fissure in the conventional sense of the word, this mouth or chasm, had been prepared at the time of creation. Normally prior to an earthquake, the ground experiences tremors and any fissures caused do not close up. This opening left absolutely no suggestion of its existence before or after the occurrence. The death of Korach and his assembly was not natural. Throughout history, many humans have died by earthquakes, but in this case, the earth opened and then closed its mouth.

  1. Pi HaBe’er (the mouth of the well) – Can you imagine 600,000 men between 20 and 50 years of age, plus younger and older men, and plus women, a multitude of approximately 3,000,000 people finding water during their 40 year sojourn in the desert? After the death of Miriam, the B’nei Yisra’el (the children of Israel) found themselves without water. Our Rabbi’s teach us that in the merit of Miriam a fountain of water (the infamous rock) traveled with the B’nei Yisra’el during their sojourns.

Again, this fountain was not an ordinary well, yet its character was part of the natural order, prepared and ready with all of nature prior to the first Shabbat.

  1. Pi HaAton (the mouth of the donkey) – Pay attention to the dialogue between Bilam and his donkey: “HaShem opened the mouth of the donkey and it said to Bil’am, ‘What have I done to you that you struck me these three times? ‘Bilam said to the donkey, ‘Because you mocked me! If only there were a sword in my hand, I would kill you!

The donkey said to Bil’am, ‘Am I not your [she] donkey that you have ridden all of your life until today? Have I been accustomed to doing such a thing to you?’

He said, ‘No.’

Then HaShem uncovered Bil’am’s eyes and he saw the angel of HaShem standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand. He [Bil’am] bowed his head and prostrated himself on his face.”

According to Irving M. Bumin (Ethics from Sinai, vol. 3 page 85) Bil’am learned two things from this exchange: “

  • If heaven wills it, even a donkey can see what a prophet cannot. Prophetic vision is under the control of HaShem.
  • Speech is a G-d given gift and Bil’am should reserve his speech for words directed to him from above.”

The ability of the donkey to speak to Bil’am was not miraculous in the common sense of the word. it was arranged even before creation was complete.

  1. The Rainbow – prior to the flood, a mist hovered over the earth and watered all plants. After the flood, the sun was able to shine forth through the clouds and the phenomenon of a rainbow was unable to be seen. This change in reality that affects us even to this day is the result of the atmospheric conditions set forth when the first rainbow appeared.
  2. The Manna – One of the greatest wonders of creation was Manna, a heavenly food that was pure nourishment. The Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat B’Shalach 22) defines the miraculous quality of this food.

“Manna could assume almost any taste, depending of the consumer. It was completely digested leaving no waste to be expelled. The amount gathered would last all day and rot if left over for the next day. On Fridays a double portion would fall, enough for Friday and Shabbat.

The distance it fell from the home depended on the righteousness of the consumer; the more righteous the consumer, the closer it fell to the doorway of the family’s tent.

For the righteous it was as fine bread; for the virtuous, as course cakes; and the wicked had to grind it between millstones, or beat it with a mortar and pestle. Also, for the young it was as bread; for the old, as wafers made with honey; for infants, as mother’s milk; and for the sick, like fine meal with honey.”

  1. The staff – We read in Shemot (Exodus) 4:17, 20: “And you shall take in your hand this staff, with which you will work wonders…and he took the staff of HaShem in his hand.”

This is the staff that turned into a snake/alligator; that set off the Ten Plagues; that divided the Reed (Red) Sea; and that brought forth water from a rock. Made of sapphire with HaShem’s infallible Name written upon it, this staff was no ordinary staff, its origin was part of the creation process.

Where did it come from? Pirke De’Rebbi Eliezer 40 (a Midrashic work [c.100 C.E.] composed by the school of Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus) gives the history of the staff. “Created at twilight, before the Sabbath, it was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam gave it to Chanoch (Enoch), who gave it to Metushelach (Methuselah); he in turn passed it on to Noach (Noah). Noach bequeathed it to his son Shem, who transmitted it to Avraham (Abraham). From Avraham to Yitzchak (Isaac), and then to Ya’akov (Jacob), who took it with him to Egypt. Ya’acov gave it to Yosef (Joseph); upon Yosef’s death all his possessions were removed to Pharaoh’s palace. Yitro (Jethro) one of Pharaoh’s advisors desired it, whereupon he took it and stuck it in the ground in his garden in Midian. From then on no one could pull out the staff until Moshe came. He read the Hebrew letters on the staff and pulled it out easily. Knowing then that Moshe was the redeemer of Israel; Yitro gave him his daughter Tziporah (Tziporah) in marriage.” Then, as a shepherd to Yitro, it was while investigating the phenomenon of the Burning Bush that HaShem said to Moshe: “What is in your hand? And he (Moshe) said, ‘a staff‘” (Shemot 4:2).

  1. The Shamir – The Torah (Shemot 20:22) banned the use of metal in building the altar. When King Shlomo (Solomon) built the Temple, he understood that this ban also applied to the stones of the Temple. How could he build a large stone edifice without the use of a blade, or a hammer?

The Talmud in Tractate Giten (68a-b) tells an amazing story of the capture of a miraculous worm that vibrated at a very high frequency (it may have given off super-sonic oscillations) and could split wood and stone. “Placed on the hardest wood or stone it would split them open as into two writing tablets. No iron or metal could have this quality, it would simply split them open. It could be transported only wrapped in a cloth, tufts of wool, or in a lead container filled with barley bran” (Tosefta: Sotah 15:1).

  1. The alphabet – Our tradition teaches us the even before HaShem began creation, He wrote the Torah. This could best be understood as an architect drawing up the plans prior to beginning construction. However, mankind needed a tool to be able to discern this monumental work, hence, the alphabet. Prior to the nation of Israel appearing on the scene, other written scripts did appear, but these scripts were hieroglyphs and pictographs. The Hebrew alphabet has a miraculous and unique quality to Jewish and world history. As Professor David Porush writes (http//www.rpi.edu/~porusd) “I would rate the ‘invention’ of the Hebrew alphabet as one of the single most amazing discoveries in human history, far above electricity, the atom bomb, exploration of space, the printing press, or any other technology.”

Here are a few of his reasons:

    • The Hebrew alphabet was the first alphabet ever invented. This means that it was the first system of symbols to represent the pure atoms of “sounds” that formed words rather than using pictures to represent words and ideas (like hieroglyphs and pictographs do).
    • The Hebrew alphabet is the mother of all alphabets. No other alphabet was ever invented independently of Hebrew and all alphabets can trace their origins to it (Aleph, Bet = alphabet).
    • Since all previous alphabets were pictographs or ideograms (pictures that stand for words), the Hebrew alphabet further enforces the abandonment of idolatry.
    • The most concise script before the invention of the Hebrew alphabet contained over 600 signs. Most pictographic and hieroglyphic scripts contain thousands of signs.
    • Because the 22 Hebrew letters represent sounds not pictures, it requires a higher level of abstraction in decoding them.
    • Hebrew is also different from all alphabets that followed because it lacks vowels. The Phoenicians and Greeks added vowels, and so are often accredited with inventing the alphabet even though the earliest Phoenician alphabet is circa 1200 B.C.E. and the earliest Greek alphabet is circa 850 B.C.E.
    • Because the Hebrew alphabet lacks vowels (and was originally written without spaces or punctuation, too) it is more ambiguous. The same set of consonants very often can indicate many different words. Hebrew, therefore, invites an extraordinary gift of interpretation and tolerance for multiple meanings on the part of its readers. (E.g. “read not Banim but Bonim – not sons but builders” (Talmud Tractate Berachot 64a – commonly recited in the Ashkenazic tradition between Kabalat Shabbat and the evening service on Friday nights); when reading the letters Aleph and Tav are you reading “Et” (the accusative particle); “Oht” (letter or sign) Aht (you – feminine) or the number 401 (Aleph =1 and Tav = 400)?

In other words contained within the Hebrew alphabet are the seeds of the interpretive practices of Midrash and Gematriya.” These designs of HaShem are not only a concise key to communication, but (as we began this “VORT”) they contain the “images of HaShem” that enable us as “images of HaShem” to communicate information that enlightens us to His creation.

  1. The inscription – The inscriptions on the Tablets also had a miraculous nature to them. “Moshe descended the mountain with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand, Tablets inscribed on both their sides; they were inscribed on one side and on the other. The Tablets were HaShem’s handiwork, and the inscription was the inscription of HaShem engraved on the Tablets” (Shemot 32 15-16).

The words on the Tablets were engraved so that they completely bore through the stone. But rather than the second side being a mirror image of the first, miraculously, both sides could be read with the same clarity and format.

  1. The Tablets – Made of sapphire, the Tablets were shaped like cubes and measured six Tefachim (about two feet) on each side. Though the letters Samach and Mem Sofit (shaped similar to the letter “O”) have mid sections that should cause the letters to fall out of the Tablets, yet they did not.

Also, it is believed that the Tablets weighed an enormous amount (each Tablet was 8 cubic feet of sapphire) yet, Moshe was able to carry them. It is understood that they in fact, carried Moshe and not otherwise. Therefore our tradition asserts that when confronted by the Golden Calf, it was not Moshe who broke the Tablets, but rather the holy letters and holy inscription withdrew from the Tablets causing them to be too heavy for Moshe to carry and thus they shattered.

This simple Mishnah contains worlds of information, too massive to be contained in this Parsha summery. But we see how a detail in our Parsha can lead us to a Mishna, to various tractates of Talmud, the Midrash and other ancient and modern works.

I once concluded that the center of infinity, by definition, is every point. The Torah is truly infinite, and any one point in the Torah can lead you to every other point. Our duty in life is to remember that we were created in the image of HaShem, with the divine power of speech and the power of communication. May the use of our words bring forth all the great features that were created on the eve of Shabbat and bring about the enlightenment of mankind and the glory of HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil