Torah for the Times

Friday,January18- 7 Shevat , 5773

Torah Reading: Bo (Exodus 10:1 - 13:16)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:38 PM

Shabbat ends: 5:42 PM

Moses the Matchmaker

One of the rituals associated with the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt is the Pidyon Haben-Redemption of the first-born. This ceremony, performed when a first-born male child completes his first thirty days of life, involves the father giving the equivalent of five silver shekalim to a kohain. The simple reason for this act is to acknowledge G‑d's saving of the first-born Israelite boys from the fate that awaited their Egyptian counterparts.

According to many authorities of Halacha (Jewish law) a father must personally be involved in the ceremony and cannot delegate its execution to a proxy. While Jewish law does allow for various religious obligations-such as tithing one's produce-to be done through an agent, Pidyon Haben, is an exception to the rule and must be performed by the father directly.

Chatam Sofer, a noted nineteenth century rabbinic authority, states that this rule is based on an explicit verse in this week's parsha of Bo (Exodus 13:13-15): " should redeem every firstborn person among your sons. It will come to pass if your son asks you in the future, saying, "What is this?' You shall say to him" 'With a mighty hand G‑d took us out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to send us out, G‑d slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of people and animals. Therefore, I offer to G‑d all males that come out of the womb first, and I will redeem every one of my firstborn sons.'"

The concluding words: "I will redeem" is meant to underscore that the father himself must do the redeeming; he cannot delegate the responsibility to another, because G‑d too "personally" was involved in the saving of the firstborn Israelites at the time of the Exodus.
Indeed, this theme of G‑d's personal involvement in the Exodus is underscored in the Haggadah that is recited at the Seder. There we state that G‑d did not delegate the responsibility of redeeming the Jews to angels or any other messengers.

This premise-that G‑d Himself was involved in the Exodus and did not delegate responsibility to others-raises an obvious question: Is not the entire narrative of the Exodus punctuated with the role that Moses played as G‑d's messenger? How can one state that G‑d did it without a messenger, considering the numerous references in the Torah about G‑d telling Moses: "Go to Pharaoh" and similar pronouncements?

The answer to this question lies in a better understanding of Moses' role in this process. When two parties who are far apart want to negotiate an agreement, there are two ways they can do so. They can hire an intermediary, an agent, who shuttles between the two parties, working out some compromise or accommodation that will be to their satisfaction. In all of these dealings, however, the two parties never really meet and form a close bond. All that they accomplish in terms of their relationship is done through the mediation of the agent. This system is known as an "intermediary who separates."

There is, however, a totally different type of mediation. For example, a Shadchan-matchmaker will bring two strangers together for the ultimate purpose of marriage. Initially, the two parties make no direct contact with one another, but through the initiative of the Shadchan, the two are introduced to each other and may subsequently become husband and wife.

Alternatively, there might be some friction between spouses or two close friends. A counselor or a mutual friend will mediate between them with the express goal of bringing them back together so that they have a direct line of communication. This type of mediation is called an "intermediary that does not separate." On the contrary, his exclusive function is to bring about the most complete unity between the two sides that were heretofore very distant.

This was the nature of Moses' role as an intermediary. His function was not to simply "represent" G‑d, given the power of "attorney," to liberate the Jews and give them the Torah. His role was to bring G‑d directly to the people, so that there was nothing that could possibly separate between the two: G‑d and Israel.

Therefore, the Mitzvah of redeeming the first born that parallels the Divine act of redeeming the Jewish people from exile, must reflect the lack of any interference, even of a positive nature, between the two "parties." The father must personally redeem his son.

What is said about Moses' role is also true about every authentic Jewish spiritual leader. Their task was to serve as intermediaries that connect, rather than intermediaries that separate. The same is certainly true about the Jewish belief in the Moshiach, a human leader whose role it is to be the shadchan that will bring G‑d once more "close" to His people and redeem them from exile so that all of Israel enjoys a direct and unobstructed relationship with our Liberator and Creator.

Moshiach Matters

“The life of the Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn) can be divided into 3 stages. The first is when he began spreading Chassidus during the lifetime of his father, Rebbe Sholom Dovber, the second is during his reign as Rebbe when he spread Chassidus throughout the world, including bringing Torah to America. The third stage is after 1950 (the years of the Rebbe’s leadership), when his work intensified greatly, to the point that the world has become absolutely ready for the arrival of Moshiach.”
(The Rebbe, Parshas VaEra, 1992)