Food For the Soul
Thrown into the River
The Parsha Shemot tells of the harshness of the ancient Egyptian aggression against the Jewish people. First, they were enslaved. Then there was a new, cruel decree: “any boy who is born should be thrown into the river” (Exodus 1:22).
The Sages explain that, like everything in the Torah, this command to throw the Jewish children into the Nile can be understood on several levels. One, of course, is the literal meaning of the physical threat. Another level of meaning has direct relevance to us today.
In Egyptian life the Nile River was seen, quite naturally, as the source of the great prosperity of the land. With reliable regularity the Nile would overflow its banks, providing water for the irrigation for the fertile Nile valley, the basis of the Egyptian economy. For this reason, the river was worshipped as an idol. The idea that the Jewish children should be thrown into the Nile therefore implies a change in the orientation of the Jewish people and of their perspective on the world. They had come from the Land of Israel where the crops depended on the infrequent and irregular rainfall. Everyone was aware that G‑d controlled the rain. So, people prayed to G-d… Now however in Egypt, they were being “thrown into the river”. Instead of seeing G‑d as the source of their sustenance, the Jews would now perceive only apparently reliable, natural forces. They would feel themselves to be totally dependant on the natural, regular flow of the Nile rather than on G‑d, the Creator of the Universe.
They would no longer pray to G‑d to help them in their endeavors to make a living. They would simply rely confidently on the natural power of the Egyptian river. This would be a deeper, spiritual level of slavery. It would affect not the bodies of the Jews, but their souls.
The physical slavery of Egypt is a thing of the ancient past. However, the threat of the spiritual form of slavery is still with us. So, every year we read again the account of how we became slaves in Egypt, and the way Moses inspired in us a subtle change of perspective: the awareness that Nature is merely an instrument of G‑d, Who alone rules the world.
Through this knowledge, both then and now, we gain our freedom.
Dr. Tali Loewenthal
In each Shabbat, there are two Shabbats: An outer Shabbat, and an inner Shabbat. The outer Shabbat is but an entranceway, a liberation from work. The inner Shabbat is a world inside, a world of contemplation and delight.
As a bride is whisked away from the rest of the world to be only to her beloved and no one else, so Shabbat carries us out of a mundane life on earth into the arms of the divine. We can breathe again, our shackles temporarily broken. There is no work to do, because we have left the world of work behind. And that allows us entry to the inner Shabbat, where divine thought breathes here on earth.
So, we stop, pore over the holy, mystical teachings of our masters, contemplate deeply their words, and wrap ourselves in prayer, in communion with the Knower of all Thoughts. Keep both Shabbats and you will find yourself redeemed.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Mind Over Matter
Rabbi Yehudah ben Natan was walking behind Rabbi Hamenuna. He sighed.
Rabbi Hamenuna said, “Someone here wants to bring suffering upon himself.”
For when you fear a thing, you open a door for it to enter. —Talmud Brachot 60a.
The Baal Shem Tov taught, “Where a person’s thoughts are, that’s where he is, all of him.”
So, if you want to be healthy, put yourself in a healthy space. Think healthy thoughts. Say healthy things.
Don’t even say you are sick. Say you are recovering, becoming healthy. Getting stronger and stronger each day.
As the Rebbe wrote to someone who complained about his ailments, “I have told you many times: You are a healthy man. Think that way.”
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
G-d Hears Our Cry
The Israelites were unable to endure the harsh galut [exile] of Egypt and cried out unto G‑d to redeem them from it. Indeed, G‑d heard their cry and sent Moses to save them. Likewise with our present galut: When we cry out, “Take us out of the galut and bring about the redemption,” the Almighty will surely hear our cry and redeem us. Moreover, our mere being in a state of readiness to call upon G‑d is already enough for Him to respond, as it is written, “Before they call, I shall answer, and while they yet speak, I shall hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
What’s in a Name?
As each of my pregnancies progressed, my husband and I discussed potential names for our soon-to-be newborn baby. We poured over lists, girls’ and boys’ names, as well as names of deceased relatives. Despite our many hours of deliberation, we didn’t name any of our children after the names we had initially chosen. As each child was finally born, we looked deeply into the newborn’s eyes and just knew what the name should be.
Parents have a form of divine prophecy when they name their children. A name is intrinsically connected to the essence of the individual’s soul and is the channel through which his spiritual life force flows. That’s why to arouse someone from a deep sleep or even a faint, call them by their name. To get their full attention or affection, address them by their name.
A generation ago, the Nazis dehumanized our people by discarding our names and treating us as numbers. By robbing us of our names, they tried to rob us of our humanity.
Names are a big part of this week’s Torah portion which is called Shemot, “Names,” and is also the title for the entire book of Exodus. The portion starts with G‑d calling names: And these are the names of the children of Israel who came into Egypt . . . (Exodus 1:1-2).
G-d counted the tribes again now, to express His love for them, by calling each one by their individual name. (Rashi)
The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 1:28) learns from this that the Jews in Egypt did not change their Jewish names.
Even though they assimilated into Egyptian culture, the Jews held strong to their names, language and clothing. This would become their weapon in their spiritual battle to preserve their unique identity as the Jewish people.
When Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, goes to bathe in the Nile, she notices a basket floating and realizes that the baby inside must be one of the Hebrew slaves. Batya’s name means, “daughter of G‑d.” Though she was the daughter of Pharaoh who terrorized, enslaved and murdered the Jews, Batya acted as the daughter of G‑d by risking her life to save Moses. Batya names this Hebrew baby, Moses. Although Moses had seven different names, the name that the Torah calls him and the name by which G‑d addresses him is the name given to him by Batya, due her selfless act.
Perhaps that’s the message of this portion and the entire book of Shemot.
To experience our own personal exodus, we need to view every person as an individual with his or her own exclusive set of struggles and challenges. To preserve our humanity and to see another’s humanity, we must see them as a name—as an individual with a unique story and a unique destiny.
What’s your Hebrew name? How does it connect to your mission and individuality?