Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dvar Torah for Parshas Shemos

With thanks to Aron Hertz.   

In comparison to Sefer Bereishis which is known as ספר היצירה, the Sefer of Creation, Sefer Shemos is described by the Ramban as ספר המעשה, the Sefer of Accomplishments. This is because while Bereishis tells the story of the Avos who solidified the creation of the world through their actions, Sefer Shemos tells the story of the practical application of the Avos’ efforts by their descendants. What is this application? The acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish people and the performance of those mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, the sefer starts from when the Jews are slaves in Egypt and ends with them having accepted the Torah, traveling towards Eretz Yisrael, and building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), whose whole purpose was that Hashem should dwell amongst the Jewish people. Hashem’s filling the world with his presence is a fitting end for the sefer dealing with the application of creation.
    One of the big events in this week’s parshah is Moshe’s appointment as God’s messenger to take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. When Moshe faces the burning bush and is told his mission, he is very reluctant to go. His first excuse is, “מִי אָנֹכִי כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל פַּרְעֹה וְכִי אוֹצִיא אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם” “Who am I that I should go to Paroh and that I should take the Jews out of Egypt?”(3:11). Moshe feels that he is not an important enough person to stand in front of the King. His second excuse is, “הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָא אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתִּי לָהֶם אֱלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם וְאָמְרוּ לִי מַה שְּׁמוֹ מָה אֹמַר אֲלֵהֶם” “(Moshe says to Hashem) Behold, I will come to Bnei Yisrael and I will say to them ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’, and they will say ‘What is his name?’ What should I answer them?”(3:13). Moshe is not sure what attribute of God he should attribute his mission too. If he cannot name the aspect of God he is associated with, the Jews will not believe in his mission. And his final complaint is, “וְהֵן לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ לִי וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי” “They will not believe me and they will not listen to me (that Hashem appeared to me)” (4:1). Moshe’s last ditch effort to get out of this job is to tell Hashem that the Bnei Yisrael simply won’t believe him!
     In the pesukim between Moshe’s claims, Hashem is continuously telling him more aspects of the mission and assuring Moshe that he will be successful. (Moshe is punished for this by not having the Kehunah (priesthood) come through his children, but rather from his brother Aharon’s.) Eventually, Hashem decides to give Moshe three signs to show the Jews should they believe him. The three signs are: 1) Moshe’s staff turns into a snake and then back into a staff (This sign was also later used in front of Paroh), 2) Moshe was stricken with tzaraas (best translated as leprosy), 3) Moshe changed water from the Nile into blood. The question is what is the significance of each of the three signs and why did he need to give three?
    Rashi explains that since Moshe said Lashon Hara about the Bnei Yisrael (4:1) by saying that they wouldn’t believe him, Hashem gave him signs that correspond to Lashon Hara. These are the snake, the symbol of Lashon Hara, and the tzaraas which is the punishment for Lashon Hara. The sign of the blood is a preface to the ten plagues which will start with the plague of blood.
    Why Moshe received three signs I believe is because of the nature of each of the three complaints. The first complaint is that Moshe is not worthy to appear before Paroh, so Hashem gives him the sign of turning the Nile into blood. The Nile, the god of the country of Egypt, controlled the destiny of the entire country. By giving Moshe control over the Nile, Hashem showed that Moshe could go to Paroh and have complete control of the events.
    The second complaint is that Moshe is going to go to the Jews with no identity for his mission. The key to this is Moshe’s staff. According to the medrash, Moshe’s staff belonged to Yosef before him and Yaakov before Yosef! This was the same staff that Yaakov used in Lavan’s house (see parshas vayeitzei)! This was an ancient Jewish artifact that all Jews would recognize. If Moshe could bring the staff and prove that this was the famous staff belonging to Yaakov Avinu, of course they would believe him! By changing the staff into a snake, he proved that this was a very special staff.
    The third complaint was the worst one yet, that Bnei Yisrael just would not believe that he spoke to Hashem. This is taken care of by his having tzaraas, a sickness that only comes from Hashem. Ironically for Moshe, and thankfully for us, the Jews had absolutely no problem believing Moshe even without the signs.      
Shabbat Shalom!

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