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Parashat Shemot 5780 — 01/18/2020

Shemot 1:1-6:1

The commandment to count the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot seems to contain a contradiction. First, in Lev 23:15 we are told to count seven full weeks (i.e. 49 days). In the next verse we are told to count fifty days up to the “day after the seventh week.” Now it is easy to see that these are just two ways of counting up to the 50th day, which is Shavuot, but why are these two different counts given, and in adjacent verses?

The answer that is generally given is that the 49-day count corresponds to the “49 levels of impurity” to which Israel had sunk in Egypt, on account of the crushing labor. On the flip side, it also refers to the 49 levels of insight to which the nation rose on its way to Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. The 50-day count hints at one additional level – a 50th level of impurity, which, had the Jews slipped into it, it would have been impossible to redeem them. On the flip side, there is a 50th and highest level of insight to which even Moshe Rabbeinu was not privy. The 50th level of insight will only be revealed in the time of Mashiach.

How does this relate to our parashah? Or haChaim points out that Gd shortened but intensified the suffering of the Jews under Egyptian bondage, and had them descend to the 49th level of impurity in order to elevate as many of the holy sparks as they possibly could, without being totally lost themselves:

Now, should you ask: What would have been wrong if Hashem had redeemed them before this [preordained] time? Furthermore, why did Hashem take them out at the very last moment, at such a time that, had they stayed a bit [longer], they would have been trapped, to the point that [Hashem] had to hurry [them out] and they could not delay (12:39)? …

For [as the Jews descend more deeply into the levels of impurity they collect sparks of holiness on deeper and deeper levels, so] if [Hashem] had taken them out before that time, they would have lost out on drawing out that last particle of holiness…

You should know that [since Moshe was granted comprehension of 49 gates of insight,] the “People of Hashem” in their collective aspect that is encompassed by Moshe, who is identified as “His People” [see Yeshayah 63:11] likewise achieved comprehension of 49 gates of insight. The reason [the nation] did not achieve the fiftieth gate is because achievement is gained only through effort, and since the Jewish people did not enter the fiftieth gate of impurity to draw [the sparks] out of it, they did not achieve the aspect of holiness that parallels it. We have been promised, however, that in the future era, Gd the Most High will infuse us with the Living Torah that is contained in the fiftieth gate of insight. [That level] is achieved through [enduring] all the exiles, and we achieve the matter particularly by the final exile [the current one].

The reason that the Jews in Egypt would have been endangered by drawing out [sparks in] the fiftieth gate [of impurity] is because they were not molded by Torah [since it hadn’t been given yet]. By contrast, later generations will achieve, by way of their Torah, to enter the fiftieth gate and to remove from its mouth whatever [holiness] it has swallowed. At that time, all aspects of impurity will be finished and gone.

The whole picture of sparks of holiness trapped in vessels of impurity is of course simply a way for us to visualize something so abstract that it is almost impossible for the mind to grasp its reality. Yet it is being used to describe a purpose for the very real-world suffering of our enslaved forebears. Perhaps this is making a virtue of necessity, or perhaps it is describing a very different level of the scenario the Jews were, probably unwittingly, carrying out.

First, what does it mean to rescue the sparks of holiness from the kelipah? Let us first consider this in terms of consciousness or perception. We really take a non-dualistic approach to our understanding of the world. Gd is all that there is; everything is a virtual play and display within Gd’s own essence. It is similar to the understanding Physics gives us that everything we see in the world is nothing other than a very rich and complex pattern of vibration of one, underlying Unified Field. The Unified Field is the only reality. We ascribe reality to the ever-changing surface values of life only out of our ignorance of, or lack of perception of, the ultimate reality underneath.

But if everything is really Gd, then everything is holy. Even the kelipah is holy. The only reason that we associate it with impurity is because it blocks our perception of its own essential nature as an expression of Gd. I’d like to suggest that when we rescue a spark of holiness what we mean to say is that our perception breaks through the illusion that the kelipah has substantial reality and understands and experiences that even the kelipah is nothing but Gd.

Now certainly the “earlier” levels, in which the kelipah is less opaque, are easier to see through – they are as if more transparent or diaphanous. They are also “closest” to Gd in the sense of being most refined. As one proceeds to grosser and grosser levels, we grow more and more distant and estranged from Gd and the kelipah grows more concrete and opaque. This estrangement from Gd, Gd’s “hiding His Face,” can surely be described as “suffering”! It takes greater strength to be able to peer with X-Ray vision through the kelipah at this level to see Gd hiding within it. Nevertheless, we must undertake this level too if we are to fulfill our calling as individuals and as a nation. Gd must be king over all the worlds; every level of kelipah must have its intrinsic holiness right on the surface of perception. And at some point we must overcome the last, 50th level of kelipah and realize Gd’s Wholeness as a continuous lived reality on the level of mind, intellect, ego and perception.

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshah Shemot

“A new king arose in Egypt who knew not Joseph.”

Joseph and his family brought Canaan (synchronicity, Wholeness) to Egypt (Mitzraim, restrictions).

The pharaoh of Joseph’s time knew Joseph, and thus knew Wholeness and respected all representatives of Wholeness. When a pharaoh arise who knew not Joseph, it means he was lost in restrictions and could see and respect Wholeness and its representatives.

As a result, this pharaoh saw Joseph and the Children of Israel as threats and not as blessings. He reduced them to slavery and began murdering the newborn males. Of course, for this to have happened, there must have been some diminishing of purity, of wholeness, on the part of the Israelites, not just ritual impurity but some diminishing of their “Loving Gd with all their heart, their soul, all their might” and some diminishing of their “loving their neighbor as their self, their Self.

The most important lesson we learn is to honor these two commandments of Gd so that we are always happy, loving and perceived that way by others. Then everyone, including the most powerful rulers and the most desperate criminals would always see us as friends and never even think of doing us harm.

When the Children of Israel in Egypt had been reduced to slavery and Pharaoh was murdering the male children, the cries of the Israelites rose to Gd and Gd decided the time for the Exodus had come – the return to Canaan, to Wholeness.

Gd spoke to Moses from a burning bush, a bush that was not consumed by the flames, and told Moses that He will rescue them and lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. He told Moses to speak to Pharaoh to release the Children of Israel for three days to make offerings to their Gd in the desert. Gd also tells Moses that Pharaoh will refuse and that Gd will with a mighty hand perform miracles and then Pharaoh will let the Children of Israel go and they will leave and not go empty handed but with all of the wealth of Egypt.

Moses asked Gd what name shall he tell the Children of Israel when they ask him who sent him.

Gd responds, “Ehyeh hasher Ehyeh”: I Will Be what I Will Be.” But also He says tell them the Gd of their forefathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has sent you so they will have confidence that He who rescued their forefathers will rescue them.

We can learn from this that Gd the Omnipotent who “Will Be what He Will Be” cannot be interfered with and does answers prayers: He will answer ours but perhaps our troubles are long-standing, like the slavery of the Children of Israel in Egypt. Then perhaps Gd will answer the prayers step-by-step, perhaps by sending us some person with wisdom, such as a business advisor, a teacher, a health professional, to lead us out of our troubles. Some person who has a history of success.

Perhaps He will answer our prayers by giving us some flash of insight, which like the burning bush, continues, does not pass away, gives us confidence it is reliable advice we can act on.

Perhaps He will answer our prayers by giving us continual Awareness of His Wholeness, His “I Will Be What I Will Be” and thus give us direct experience of this Wholeness, this All-in-All, that governs according to His Will and through which we can solve problems and prevent problems.

We need to be alert and open for we do not know how Gd will answer our prayers and transform our problems into blessings: He Will Be What He Will Be.

And we need to be the leaders of our own lives: we need to be our own Moses and to continue communicating with Gd – through prayer, through our good lives, through whatever means we have to “love Gd with all our heart and soul” so that through our love we become open to Gd’s Love, Gd’s Blessings, Gd’s restoration to us of our birthright: Oneness with the One, the “I will Be What I will Be.”

Baruch HaShem