TORAH FOR THE TIMES 

 

 

 

 

 

Shabbat Schedule:  Friday- Shabbat, Jan. 20-21

 

Torah Reading:  Shemot: Exodus 1:1 - 6:1

Haftora: Isaiah 27:6-28; Isaiah 29:22-23

 

Shabbat Mevarchim Shevat

 

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 4:41 PM

Shabbat Ends: 5:44 PM

 B"H

SHEMOT
IT DEPENDS ON THE NAME

 

The book of Exodus opens with a list of names of the sons of Jacob who came to Egypt with Jacob. It then proceeds to describe the way in which the Jewish people were eventually enslaved by Pharaoh. 

 

The Midrash comments on the names of the sons of Jacob enumerated here, and explains that each of these names expresses the theme of their Redemption. 

 

It seems that the Midrash is troubled by the need for the Torah to repeat the names of Jacob's sons in this parsha. Haven't we already read their names repeatedly in the preceding book of Genesis. To which the Midrash seems to be responding. Yes, we know their names, but here their names assume a new character; they are symbols of Redemption. It is crucial for us to know that despite the fact that the twelve sons of Jacob came to Egypt, the land that ultimately oppressed them for hundreds of years, nevertheless they arrived in Egypt with their names and the liberating nature of their souls that was represented by these names. Even as they were to become slaves they were inherently free.

 

The Midrash then enumerates the twelve items related to Redemption that are hinted in these twelve names:

 

Reuvein, which is related to the word that means "he saw", reflects G‑d who saw and responded to their suffering.

 

Shimon, which derives from the word that means "he heard", reflects G‑d who heard and responded to their cries.

 

Levi, which means attachment, reflects the way G‑d attached Himself and empathized with the oppressed Jews.

 

Yehudah, which means to gratefully acknowledge, alludes to the way the Jewish people thanked and praised G‑d.

 

Yissachar, which means "there is reward", refers to the great wealth of Egypt that the Jews received when they were liberated.

 

Zevulun refers to the ultimate construction of the Holy Temple, where G‑d would dwell amongst the people—the end result of their liberation.

 

Dan, which means judgment, refers to the way the Egyptian tormentors were judged and punished by G‑d.

 

Naftali, has the root of the word that means "dripping honey," a reference to the Torah that was given to them after the Exodus; a Torah that is as sweet as honey.

 

Gad, which means a coriander seed, alludes to the Manna, that descended for them in the desert upon their exodus from Egypt, that the Torah says resembled a coriander seed. 

 

Asher, which means "happy" or "praise", describes the way the other nations will be happy for our liberation and heap praise on us.

 

Yosef, which means to add, alludes to the way G‑d will in the future redeem us again. 

 

Binyamin, contains the word "right" and it alludes to the fact that G‑d liberated us with His "right hand."

 

All of these twelve names/symbols—with the exception of Yehudah and Asher—refer to the things G‑d did or will do with respect to the liberation of the Jewish people. Obviously, all of these traits that G‑d exhibited are intended for us to emulate in the spirit of the commandment to "follow in His ways." 

 

One exception to this pattern is the tribe of Asher, whose name reflects the positive reaction of the nations of the world to our liberation. That too can be understood as G‑d's gift to us. He will cause the other nations to appreciate us and be happy for our liberation. 

 

The other exception is more difficult to understand—the tribe of Yehudah. Yehudah, as noted, represents our expression of gratitude to G‑d. Why couldn't the Midrash find something that G‑d did that tied in with the name Yehudah?

 

The question is magnified in light of the fact cited by the Talmud that the name Yehudah actually contains the four letters of  G‑d name. Yehudah is the most G‑dly of all the names and yet the message it conveys here is something that we do, and not something G‑d does.

 

One answer to this question is that G‑d could give us everything, with one lone exception. There is one thing, however, that we must give Him, as it were. He cannot make us thank and acknowledge Him. That is something that must come from us. If you tell someone to accept someone else as your leader, it is not a full acceptance. If you force someone to say thank you, it is devoid of any meaning. Yehudah represents our acceptance of G‑d as our King and Liberator. It derives from the depths of our souls and must be self-motivated.

 

Unlike the other traits—where we "take our cue" from G‑d, by seeing G‑d's behavior first and then applying it to ourselves—accepting G‑d as our G‑d, by definition, starts with us. If He has to impose Himself on us, that is not a complete acceptance. That is not what Yehudah stands for and that it is not part of the process of Redemption.

 

Therefore, Yehudah is a name that is associated with Redemption, not only because it was a response to their liberation from Egypt, but because only a person who is free from the pressures that come from the outside can truly express sincere gratitude to, and full acceptance, of G‑d.

 

The same is true about the way we prepare for the future Redemption through Moshiach, who must be a scion of King David, a descendent of Yehudah. The phrase often employed in rabbinic Moshiach, a human leader, ideally will not impose himself on us. His leadership given to him by G‑d cannot be complete unless the people willingly and joyfully accept his role as the leader. Towards that end, we must learn more about Moshiach from the classical sources of Judaism. 

 

 

  

Moshiach Matters: 

 

What is the difference between exile and redemption? The "alef," our consciousness of G‑d's presence. All the material dimensions of our present existence will continue in the Era of the Redemption. Our souls will be contained within physical bodies, we will derive our nurture from physical food, and we will live together with gentile neighbors. All these aspects of material existence, however, will be suffused with an awareness of G‑d.