D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero



Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


This week, we start the Book of Shmos (Exodus), the second of the five books of the Torah.

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.

Through a series of events these descendants ended up in Egypt. This is where they would truly morph into a people.

The 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).

The 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).

These 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.

Home ] Up ]