Skip to content

Parashat Shemot 5775 — 01/07/2015

Parashat Shemot 5775 — 01/07/2015

In loving memory of Marie Smallow on the occasion of her shloshim.

The Jewish people are called ma’aminim b’nei ma’aminim – believers, children of believers.  Our forebears Avraham and Sarah were the first to believe in the One Gd, and they passed that trait down, genetically perhaps, to their descendants throughout the generations.  Yet when Gd tells Moshe Rabbeinu to go back to Egypt and take the nation out of slavery, he demurs:

They will not believe me and they will not listen to me, because they will say, “Gd did not appear to you.” (4:1)

But Gd had more faith in the nation than Moshe did:

… He told Moses, “They are believers, the children of believers … while in the future, you will lack faith.”  As it says (Num 20:12) “You did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me in the presence of the Israelites.” [when Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it]

Rav Kook asks an important question: How could Moshe Rabbeinu, the “father of all the prophets,” who knew Gd face-to-face, make such a great error in judgment?  He writes:

What is faith?  The wonderful trait of emunah (faith), in its purest form, is a hidden quality of the soul.  It is unlike any other wisdom or intellectual awareness.  It is an integral part of the inner soul, forming the very basis for its life, its light and splendor.

However this source of happiness and eternal life is not always discernible to the outside world.  We are not even fully aware of the magnitude of our own resources of faith.  Certainly its true dimensions are concealed from others.

According to the way I understand Rav Kook, it appears that the basis of the quality of emunah is in the transcendental realm of the soul, rather than in the realm of the individual heart or mind, although faith certainly expresses itself in our thoughts and actions.  But if the quality of emunah is inherent in us on the deepest level, why is it hidden even from us?  Indeed, we can take the question further: why is the very existence of our soul hidden from us?  Why do we identify ourselves with our individual body and mind?  Why is Gd hidden?

I think we can begin to understand this by going back to the first Parashah in the Torah.  In Gen. 3:9ff we read:

And Gd called out to the man and He said to him “Where are you?”

And he said, “I heard Your voice in the Garden, and I was afraid because I am naked and I hid myself.

This passage kind of turns our questions on their heads!  It is not Gd Who is hidden.  Quite the contrary, Gd is calling out to us, constantly asking us where we are, and stretching out His hand to us to bring us back into an intimate relationship with Him (see e.g. Psalm 90:3 – He crushes man to dust and says “Return, children of man”).  If there is anyone who is hiding, it is us!  Why?  Adam says that he was afraid because he was naked.  Of course Gd immediately understands that Adam must have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge.  So it was improper action that caused Adam to be afraid of Gd and to hide himself from Gd.

The Biblical story is archetypal; we all live it every day.  We all have a conscience, an understanding of right and wrong, and we have a set of laws (halachah) to guide us in our obligations.  Yet often we see something that we want, and we have to expend a great deal of energy hiding ourselves from ourselves and from Gd, all so that we can have the fleeting pleasure that this impermanent object will afford us.  Once you eat the apple, it’s gone, but if you distance yourself from Gd, the effects can linger for a long time.  And the more we do this, the more entangled we get, not only with the material objects of our desires, but in the maze of illusions we conjure up to make sure Gd’s call, Where are you?! won’t break through to our conscious awareness.  Of course, it’s a losing proposition.  Even if we “win,” we become detached from Gd and from our own innermost selves.  We may no longer hear Gd calling out to us only because we are hopelessly lost.

If we want to live our lives with real emunah, we have to reverse the process of hiding ourselves.  This is what t’shuvah is supposed to do.  According to Rambam, the first step in t’shuvah is to acknowledge what we have done wrong.  This is done by deconstructing the web of untruth with which we surround ourselves in order to block out Gd’s call.  We have to see through our own excuses and rationalizations, all the “yes, but”‘s that soften the impact of our falling short of the ideal vision we have of ourselves, and that Gd has of us.  We have to tell ourselves, “That was the wrong thing to do” when we act or think improperly.  It is not easy, and it’s an ongoing process.  But the result is living in the radiance of Gd’s light, which He no longer has to hide away from us!

The Sacks Haggadah

Essay 13: Women and the Exodus

“Behind every successful man is a good woman.”  In Moshe Rabbeinu’s case, R. Sacks identifies 6 women without whose support Moshe would not have made it to his first birthday.  They are:

  • His mother, Yocheved, who not only bore him, but hid him from Pharaoh’s henchman for 3 months, then set him afloat in the Nile in the hopes that he would be saved.
  • His sister, Miriam, who waited by his basket and suggested to Pharaoh’s daughter that she find a Hebrew nursemaid for him.
  • Bitya, Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him
  • Zipporah, his wife, who circumcised their son on the way back to Egypt, saving his life (exception to the “first birthday” comment!)
  • The Hebrew midwives, Shifrah and Puah, who didn’t kill the male children.  Some Midrashim identify Shifrah and Puah with Yocheved and Miriam respectively.

R. Sacks quotes the famous Midrash which explains Miriam’s rôle further.  When the edict came down that all the male babies were to be cast into the river, her father, Amram, who was the leader of that generation, divorced Yocheved, feeling that it was no use to have children that were just going to be killed anyway; since he was the leader, everyone else followed suit.  Miriam protested: Your decree is worse than Pharaoh’s.  Pharaoh just decreed against the boys, you’ve decreed against the boys and the girls (who would now not be born).  Pharaoh is a wicked man, and perhaps Gd will annul his decree.  You are the leader of the generation and your decree will be obeyed.  Amram agreed with his young daughter (Miriam was 6 years older than Moshe as can be derived from the verses in Numbers where her death and Aharon’s death are reported).  He remarried Yocheved, had Moshe, and the rest, as they say, is history.

R. Sacks writes that she “persuaded her father that he was wrong, that his decision, logical and ethical though it was, lacked one thing, namely faith itself.”  How could Amram have less faith than his 6-year-old daughter?!  He was the leader of a generation that was fighting for its very physical survival.  He obviously had a lot to deal with, evil people to counteract as best he could, and spirits of his people to keep up.  It must have been very hard to get past all the surface stuff for which he was responsible.  His daughter, on the other hand, was free to envision a better life, to imagine what Gd’s promise of redemption meant.  She didn’t have the same blocks and blinders on that hid the underlying reality from others’ eyes.  The wonderful thing is, even as she grew up she didn’t lose that innocence, and became a great prophetess in her own right, joining her two brothers to lead the nation out of Egypt and through the wilderness.