Friday, January 08, 2010

Parshat Sh'mot - פרשת שמות

"וְלֹא-יָכְלָה עוֹד, הַצְּפִינוֹ, וַתִּקַּח-לוֹ תֵּבַת גֹּמֶא, וַתַּחְמְרָה בַחֵמָר וּבַזָּפֶת; וַתָּשֶׂם בָּהּ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, וַתָּשֶׂם בַּסּוּף עַל-שְׂפַת הַיְאֹר - And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child in it, and laid it in the flags by the river's brink."

(שמות ב:ג)

This week's Parsha, Sh'mot, marks the beginning of the second book of the Torah. In the verse above, we read of how Moshe Rabbeinu, who we learn was born 3 months prematurely, came to an age where he was impossible to hide. Because of the severe penalty for hiding a male baby from the Egyptian authorities, it was decided that he would have to be taken out of his home.

When I read this verse earlier in the week, I noted to my chavruta that pitch is used when the Torah relates the story of Noach's ark. There, it uses the phrase, "כָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ, בַּכֹּפֶר - and you shall pitch it, within and without, with pitch." Although the term is different, there is more than a passing resemblance between the two episodes, for Moshe's little ark was also smeared with a dark, sticky substance.

My chavruta answered me by saying that there is indeed a connection between the two episodes. He explained that Noach lived at a time during which there was the greatest destruction the world has ever known. Why was there such destruction? Not because the people were exceedingly wicked - for they were not. Rather, this generation was actually one of the most knowledgeable generations that ever existed. The problem, however, was that they used their wisdom to their own ends. For example, we learn that the people of the time knew that one who stole less than "shava pruta," (a minute amount) would not be considered cuplable. (I forget the source, but I believe that it comes from a Midrash.) They would therefore feel free to steal from one another in a manner that exploited and abused this loophole in Torah law.

The reason that they were punished so heavily was that they could have become the generation to receive the Torah from God, but because they were so askew, they merited destruction by being drowned in the מבול, the great flood that immersed the entire world. There is a saying in Judaism that אין מים אלא תורה, there's no water other than Torah, and here we see an expression of that: whereas this generation might have been deserving of receiving (and being immeresed in) the Torah, because of the way they acted, they received, and were immeresed under the thing that we equate Torah to - water.

By way of contrast, the generations that came to Egypt were considered worthy of redemption, even though they had sunk to a very low level. But if they had sunk to such a low level, why was it that then that they deserved the miracles of the exodus and receipt of the Torah?

We may answer this question by looking at the opening words of the Parsha: "וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַבָּאִים, מִצְרָיְמָה: אֵת יַעֲקֹב, אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ - Now these are the names of the sons of Yisrael, who coming into Egypt with Ya'akov; every man came with his household."

The phrasing of this verse seems odd - why does it say both הַבָּאִים and בָּאוּ? One word means "coming" in the present tense, and the other means "came," which is in the past tense. What is the explanation for this anomoly. The way to understand this, contends Rabbi Yehoshua of Belz, is that while the Jewish nation undeniably had come, (past tense) to Egypt, they were only present physically. We learn that they did not integrate fully or take on Egyptian names. This generation always saw themselves as being in exile, as temporary residents of Egypt. Due to this clear perception of their impermanent status in a foreign land, they deserved their eventual redemption, the receipt of (and immersal in,) the Torah, and ultimately their return to their ancestral homeland in Israel.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

No comments:

Post a Comment