Shemos: Names and a Good Death Threat




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    Shemos: Names and a Good Death Threat

    This week’s Torah reading, Shemos, deals with the Exile of the Jews in Egypt and it is filled with questions… Read the full Dvar Torah by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton • Full Article

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    By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

    This week’s Torah reading, Shmot, deals with the Exile of the Jews in Egypt and it is filled with questions.

    First, what has the title ‘Shmot’ (‘Names’) got to do with the exile of the Jews?

    Secondly… Why did G-d put the Jews into 210 years of torture and slavery in Egyptian exile for no apparent reason? Certainly, Almighty G-d, could have accomplished what He wanted without all that suffering.

    Thirdly … One of the highlights of the entire Torah (found in our section) is when G-d speaks to Moses from a burning sneh (bush) (3:2) revealed His ‘names’ and announced the most earth shaking event of all time;

    “I am going to take the Jews from bondage to the promised land” (3:8-10).

    Why did G-d, the King of the Universe, speak from a lowly ‘Sneh’; a thorny bush that doesn’t even have berries!

    Finally; in the very end of our section after Moshe did as G-d told him and announced to the Jews that the exile is over … things got so much worse that Moshe complains to G-d’

    “Why are you torturing these people? why did you send me?” (5:22,23).

    Why didn’t things go smoothly?

    To help answer all these questions, here is a shocking story that occurred over 200 years ago in Russia.

    Shlomi and Mendel (not real names) had been friends from youth. They went to Cheder and Yeshiva (elementary and advanced Torah school) together, entered into business together and now succeeded and became millionaires together.

    Their success had been dizzying. Till just five years ago they had been sitting in Yeshiva learning Talmud all day and had never left Jewish quarter of Minsk and now they were international entrepreneurs.

    They were so busy making money that neither had time to get married. And then there was the problem of religion.

    It seems that as they rose to riches, they jettisoned not only their social and economic pasts but their Jewish ones also. Travel had ‘opened their eyes’ to the colorful and free lifestyles of Berlin, Paris and Vienna and the black and white pages of the Torah were dull in comparison.

    Most important, they were on the move. In fact at that moment they were in a carriage traveling to Minsk for an important business deal. They had made good time today; the weather was beautiful and their spirits were high.

    Because in those days, night travel was impossible, as the sun was setting they stopped in a village on the way and entered an inn in order to have a meal and a good night’s sleep.

    The small dining room was empty when they entered but there soon appeared the innkeeper, a rather large friendly old man who greeted them with a smile, showed them to a table and asked them warmly what they would like to eat.

    When they requested a menu, he stared at them deeply for a few seconds and asked in a pleasant tone, “Excuse me, but are you gentlemen Jewish?” They smiled and looked at each other briefly with raised eyebrows’ and replied, “The fact is that we happen to be Jewish, but what difference does it make?”

    “Well,” answered the innkeeper “I can bring you kosher food, that’s what you call it isn’t it, ‘kosher’? Well, I can get you some; it will just take a few minutes longer, maybe a half hour. Do you want to wait?”

    They looked again at one another and answered with a chuckle, motioning with their hands as if to say ‘don’t make a big deal out of it’, “No, no, just bring us some good meat and wine. Don’t worry about the price, just make it the best you have.”

    Beis Moshiach

    “Fine,” the innkeeper replied, “just wait here for a few minutes, and I’ll be right back with some wine. Enjoy yourselves while I prepare the meat. It will take another few minutes.” And the old man left the room. They sat back and lit up cigarettes, blowing smoke rings in the air and talking business.

    Suddenly the door burst open and the innkeeper entered like a wild animal, his face red as a beet with fury and an insane murderous look in his eyes. His sleeve was rolled up baring a muscular arm and in his upraised hand he held …. a huge razor-sharp hatchet.

    “You are going to die!!” he screamed, “You are both dead men!! I am a robber and a murderer, and you two fat Jews are just what I’ve been waiting for!! Put your hands on the table and don’t move. THAT’S IT put ‘em on the table fast! One move and I start chopping!” He raised the hatchet even more menacingly, as though any instant he would bring it sweeping down upon them.

    “NO!!! NO!!” They screamed, weeping, hands glued to the table, petrified with fear. “NO!!! Please, OH G-d PLEASE NO!!! Take our money! We won’t tell anyone. Oh G-d…. have mercy!!!”

    “AAAHH” Said the innkeeper “You Jews like to pray ehh? You don’t look the type, do you!! Well, you know what? If you want to pray, I’ll give you a few more minutes. Get up! Hands on your heads!”

    By this time his son entered the room, frisked them both to see if they perhaps had a weapon, and pushed them into a small bedroom on the first floor. “You have five minutes. The window is boarded in and there’s nothing in the closets so don’t think you can save yourselves. Three minutes to pray!!!”

    As soon as the bedroom door closed the two men fell to the ground and began weeping to G-d for forgiveness. What good was their money now, or the plays and operas they had attended or the ‘connections’ they made? Every moment they had foolishly wasted returned and burned like poisonous needles in their hearts. All they wanted to do was to clean their souls before …. the end. They tried to remember prayers from the siddur (prayer book) they were sobbing, begging and promising they would do ANYTHING if G-d would just save their lives.

    Ten minutes later the door opened gently and the innkeeper stood with a kind smile on his face. The hatchet was gone and he even bent over to help them to their feet.

    “I wasn’t really going to kill you” he said apologetically, “G-d forbid, I’m not a murderer or even a thief. Are you both all right? Sorry that I scared you, but I had to do it.” He was brushing them off. They couldn’t believe their eyes, was it a miracle? Or maybe a dream?

    “Let me explain, come sit back down here at the table and I’ll explain.” The innkeeper escorted them back to the table, brushed them off a bit, sat opposite them and continued.

    “About twenty years ago in the middle of winter, near the end of that terrible war with Napoleon, there arrived at my inn here a whole group of about 30 Jews in carriages. Not Jews like you, real religious Jews with beards. they told me that their Rabbi is in one of the carriages sick and needs a place to sleep. I didn’t really want to give them a place, but I went out and took a look at their sick Rabbi.

    “Well, I want to tell you that I never saw anything so pure and Holy in my life, it made me feel like a little baby and I almost started crying.

    “I told them that I would give the Rabbi a place if he promised me three things. First, that my oldest son not get drafted into the army, second that I live a long healthy life, and third that my inn should succeed. He agreed. He blessed me and I let him in. That was 20 years ago and I’ve received all three; my son who was healthy like a bull, got thrown out of the draft office the minute he stepped in, I’m over eighty years old and have never been ill, and my inn has been very successful.

    “Anyway, he got sicker until he passed away and was buried in the town of Haditch. But before he died he requested from me that if ever two Jews enter my inn and refuse to eat Kosher food I should frighten them and threaten them even with death, but G-d forbid not to harm them. And you are the first Jews since then that fit that description. I guess he meant you.”

    Our two heroes were so affected by the story that they traveled to Haditch and discovered that there was the grave of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Tanya and first Rebbe of Chabad. (The 200th anniversary of his passing; the 24th of Teves is this coming Monday night). They prayed and wept at his grave, then traveled to Lubavitch to the Rebbe’s successor, at that time his grandson Rebbe Menachem Mendel, and completely returned to Judaism.

    This answers our questions about names, exile, the Sneh and the suffering.

    In our story we see that these two men had to suffer, humble themselves and connect to the Rebbe in order to return. Namely that the Judaism hidden within them should awaken and manifest itself physically. Just like calling a name can return one to consciousness.

    And that is why this Parsha is called ‘Names’.

    The purpose of the Egyptian exile was to awaken the Jews, like a ‘name’: attach them to Moshe and prepare them to receive the Torah (every word of which is a ‘name’ of G-d) in order to make this world a G-dly place.

    That is the purpose of the Jewish people, and the theme of this entire chapter and the entire book ‘Names’; to bring the will, essence, of G-d into the physical world.

    That is why G-d revealed Himself in a burning bush and why Moshe there asked G-d for His Name; it was Moshe’s job to wake up the Jews that they too could call G-d’s name and reveal his essence.

    Moshe’s main feature was wisdom and his greatness was the Torah.

    Therefore G-d showed him that the place where the real fire of Judaism and holiness is really found is in the simple, humble people. Those who, like the ‘Sneh’, have no fruit; they aren’t geniuses, popular or powerful … all they have is HaShem. In other words; although the Torah is the heart, soul and backbone of the Jewish people, the essence of Judaism is simplicity.

    But the last question is the most difficult. Why didn’t HaShem release the Jews immediately when Moshe announced that the time has come? Why did things get worse?

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us that we must ask ourselves that same question several times every day.

    The Talmud taught us that Moshiach is LONG overdue (San. 98) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the Moshiach has arrived; the redemption is beginning!

    So why doesn’t HaShem release us immediately, why must the Jewish people and the rest of the world have to suffer?

    The answer is that it all depends on us; one more good deed, word or even thought to tip the scales and bring…

    Moshiach NOW!

    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimm
    Kfar Chabad, Israel


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