week, we start the Book of Shmos (Exodus), the second of the five books of the
Ramban (13th century Spanish sage) explains that the first Book of the Torah,
Bereshis (Genesis), is the book of planting. This means that it deals with the
formation, or planting, of the world. This means not only the literal formation,
but also the formation of the earth’s most prized product: human beings. And
not only the physical formation, but also the spiritual. The Maharal explains
that G-d anxiously awaited the arrival of Avraham. This means not of Avraham the
man, but of Avraham the concept. An individual who would fit the Avraham mode,
i.e. a man who would understand that there is a deeper purpose to the world.
He and some of his descendants lived their life in that spirit, the spirit of
giving, the spirit of going in the way of G-d, the spirit of purpose. They were
the builders of the Jewish nation.
a series of events these descendants ended up in Egypt. This is where they would
truly morph into a people.
Book of Shmos
is the book of sprouting, when the Jewish nation started to sprout. “Shmos”
means names. Normally a name is a signifier, an agreed upon word which
identifies a specific thing. Not so in Hebrew. The names of things in Hebrew are
not merely signifiers; rather, they define the true essence of that thing. For
example, in Hebrew an animal is a “behaima”. This can also mean the two
words which behaima is composed of —bah and mah. Literally meaning, it is what
it is. That is the definition of an animal. A human being on the other hand is
endowed with “Chachma” – literally, “wisdom”. This word is also
composed of two other words—koach and mah. Meaning strength of what, or in
other words potential strength (not physical). Which is what a human being is:
potential (either good or bad, constructive or destructive, dependent on how one
uses his potential).
Book of Shmos starts out by listing the names of the Tribes. It then names
Pharaoh and his country Mitzrayim (Egypt) as who and what are subjugating the
Jews. Then it names Moshe, the future leader of the Jews. And finally it names
G-d, as One to who the people cried out.
“And G-d heard their groaning” (Ex. Ch.2 V.24).
names define an important pattern in Jewish history. First come the main
players, the Jewish people. As it says in the Talmud: “Everything that happens
is because of Israel.” The Jews are the focal point of the world, the chosen
people. They merited this because they, starting with Avraham, chose G-d. Next
comes the name of the people persecuting the Jewish people, the Egyptians. We
are never randomly persecuted; it is always for the ultimate good (we will
discuss the importance of the Egyptian exile another week). Then comes the name
of the leader, Moshe. This also follows the pattern that, even as we are being
persecuted, G-d never forsakes us, and is always setting up our redemption from
the problem at hand: G-d prepares the cure before the plague. And finally, as
shown throughout our history, the last One is G-d. Only when we turn ourselves
towards G-d does the cycle close.
Jewish history is filled with such cycles. We must learn from our history and enable that knowledge to strengthen our relationship with G-d. And to remember that even as we suffer in exile, it is for a greater purpose.