Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, December 24 - 25  - Parshat Shemot 

Torah Reading: Shemot  (Exodus 1:1 -6:1)
Candle Lighting  4:14 PM
Shabbat ends 5:20 PM

Feel Your Pain

This week’s parsha introduces us to Moses the “first redeemer” of the Jewish people. Moses serves as the paradigm for the final redeemer of the Jewish people—Moshiach. 

Moses’ selection as the redeemer occurs at the scene of the burning bush on Mount Sinai which the Torah identifies as a thorn-bush.

Rashi, the principal Torah commentator—whose purpose is to provide us with the most basic level of understanding of the Biblical text—explains that G‑d’s choice of the thorn-bush as His venue of communication to Moses was to express His empathy for the plight of the oppressed Jewish people. Rashi applies the verse from Psalms to this situation: “I am with him in distress.” This is to say that when we are in distress, G‑d, as it were, also experiences “pain” and “anguish.”

Why, we may ask, was it important for G‑d to express His pain to Moses? Wasn’t it enough for Moses to know the pain of his brethren? If Moses was insensitive to the plight of the Jewish people would he be sensitive to the more abstract notion of Divine suffering?

One explanation can be offered in light of a commentary given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to one of our Shabbat prayers:

“Satisfy us with your goodness, and gladden our souls with your salvation.”

The Rebbe explains that there are two scenarios or reasons for the need, and our desire, for Moshiach. The first is for Moshiach to end all of the misery and pain we suffer in exile. The second reason is to liberate G‑d Himself from exile. The phenomenon of G‑d being in exile with us is described in the Talmud and Zohar as, “shechinta b’galuta, G‑d’s Shechinah, presence, in exile.” This implies that even if all of the Jewish people’s—and, indeed, the entire world’s—suffering would cease; even if universal peace and prosperity would prevail, we would still need Moshiach to “liberate” G‑d from His state of exile.

And thus the Sabbath prayer is reinterpreted by the Rebbe:

“Satisfy us with Your goodness” – Get rid of all the suffering and pain, so that our souls will be gladdened with Your salvation; that you G‑d will also be liberated!

To better understand the Rebbe’s interpretation of the foregoing prayer it is important that we define the concept of “shechinta b’galuta.” What exactly does it mean for G‑d to be in exile?

To translate this concept into down-to-earth terms a simple analogy from our own relationships can be helpful:

If you are standing next to another person and addressing him or her, while that person totally ignores you, and does not even acknowledge your presence—that would be an incredible insult and downright painful. It demonstrates that a huge gap exists between the two of you, notwithstanding that individual’s close physical proximity to you.

The insult and the concomitant emotional pain are magnified when the one ignoring you is/was your friend or relative. The pain increases even more when you realize how much you did for that individual. The worst case scenario would be for a parent—who gave his or her life and limb for their child—to receive the silent treatment from their offspring. 

That is precisely what happens in our world.

We live in a world, Chassidic thought teaches, whose very existence depends on G‑d creating and sustaining it continuously. Yet, we do not appreciate G‑d’s role in our lives, or worse, we ignore His role. This is the equivalent of being shunned by our own children, loved ones and friends. And this is the definition of G‑d being in exile.

The root of the problem is that we view the world or nature as an independent entity rather than a manifestation of G‑d’s creative energy. G‑d can then be said to be in exile because exile is defined as being cast away from your home. When G‑d does not enter our consciousness He has, for all intents and purposes, become alienated from our world.

Certainly, when we see a world in which injustice prevails, where the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, and where people can even deny G‑d’s existence, G‑d is in exile.

If we had to give one definition of what it means for G‑d to be in exile—in all of its forms—it could possibly be defined thus:

Anytime true reality takes a back seat to the illusory view of reality, G‑d—the essence of truth and reality—is in exile. If we define exile as suffering, G‑d can be obscured form our visions because of that suffering. On a deeper level, as we have now defined exile,  G‑d is concealed because we view the world with tinted and tainted spectacles.

Thus, the Rebbe explains, we pray to G‑d, “Satisfy us with our needs from Your goodness.” Remove the exile conditions by giving us everything we need. When that happens, our pleas for Moshiach and Redemption will rise to a higher and more sophisticated level. Our desire for Moshiach will not be predicated on the need to escape suffering, but will be for G‑d’s sake. Hence, the second part of the prayer: “And gladden our hearts from Your salvation.” The words, “your salvation”, the Rebbe reinterprets, refer to G‑d’s own salvation. Our joy will come from the realization that G‑d is no longer in exile and true reality becomes the reality we will know and feel.

With this introduction we can understand why G‑d wanted Moses to know that He too was in distress. Although the primary reason for Moses’ selection as Israel’s redeemer was to liberate them from Egyptian bondage, the A-mighty wanted to tell Moses that underlying that rationale for his role as redeemer was a deeper dimension. G‑d too was in exile, for the fact that there can be pain and suffering in this world is an expression of G‑d’s concealed state. If G‑d’s glory were to be fully manifested in this physical world, pain and suffering, evil and cruelty would cease.

At the time of the Exodus, the focus was on relieving the physical suffering. However, at the same time, the process for removing the “veil” that allows for pain, suffering and injustice to exist in the first place was being set into motion.

First, G‑d appeared to Moses in the burning thorn-bush as a symbol of G‑d’s empathetic pain. The secret to remove the physical manifestations of exile is to recognize that there is also a spiritual dimension to exile. And we must also focus our energies on dealing with the removal of that level.

Second, G‑d also reveals to Moses the key to removing the spiritual form of exile.

G‑d says to Moses: “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G‑d on this mountain (Mount Sinai).” This, of course, refers to the ultimate giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the purpose of which was to reveal G‑dliness to the world, which will pave the way for the ultimate Redemption. Equipped with the knowledge of Torah and the implementation of its dictates in our daily lives we remove—layer by layer—all that obstructs the clear view of G‑dly reality.

We are living in historic times. Never before have the Jewish people been so free and prosperous. This does not mean that there are no serious problems, but relative to the rest of our history, we are living in unprecedented good times.

It is in precisely these times when we can comfortably say: “You have satisfied us with Your goodness”! So now we can truly appreciate the second part of the prayer: “Gladden our hearts with Your salvation.” G‑d for Your own sake bring Moshiach and an end to exile in all of its incarnations and manifestations! 

Moshiach Matters 

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Happy is he who does not tire of awaiting the redemption and who makes certain that he and his children increase their Torah learning and their fulfillment of the Mitzvos so that they will not be ashamed when Moshiach comes .
(The Chafetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)

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