This week’s Torah portion is the Torah portion of Shemois, which begins a new book.
Shemois means “names,” as it recalls the names of the Jewish people namely, the Twelve Jewish Tribes, Rueven till Binyamin, who entered into Israel.
The Medrash teaches that the name of each tribe represents redemption.
The Great Scholar and Leader of Our Generation, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn queries – why exactly are we mentioning names that refer to redemption as the Jews are entering into exile?!
Of-course we know Jewish history/destiny is (like all good stories) a three part saga.
The first is the birth (this of-course begins with Abraham and to some extent the consolidation of the Jewish people not only as a family, but as a faith at Mount Sinai.)
Its maturation is the living as Jews – a unique people, “an Am Kodesh” “A Holy Nation” with a Torah standard (which includes both spiritual and ethical behaviors,) sent by G-d to be a light onto the nations – which considering that from the giving of the Torah, no less than three millennia + three centuries + three decades have passed, and the world as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains is definably Jewish in its notion of human rights (which were unheard of in tribal cultures, where the great achievement was taking over, enslaving others…) The third stage when “nations will beat their swords into plowshares and will teach each other war no more” for “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d (goodness) as the ocean covers the seafloor” is fast approaching.
Getting back to the subject at hand, as they say a Jew answers a question with a question : ) “Why are we so, really, obsessed, with the Exodus from Egypt?”
It is true that it is a beautiful and uplifting saga – but to consider that it is the basis of Passover… much of our daily prayers – to the extent it is inserted in the daily Shema (which Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi says, “Our days of life correspond to the two daily Shemas we must recite”…) there must be a fundamental redemptive reason!
One of our great scholars, mystics and leaders was Rabbi Yehuda Lowe of Prague (famous for his creation of the Golem.)
Rabbi Yehuda Lowe explains that when G-d redeemed the Jewish people – far more than giving them an ethical and spiritual value system He fundamentally altered their identity.
No more could they ever be enslaved, for the only slave is one who believes oneself as such.
I recall hearing a recording of a reporter from the north who went to the south to interview a slave – his words were profoundly deep and strike at the very soul of what it means to be a human – the reporter obviously feeling sorry for the slave said to him, “Don’t worry we (or I) will free you!” – said he to the reporter – “You cannot free me, for I was born free.”
When a Jew is connected to the source of Heaven and Earth – when we know our lives are part of the story, His-Story! – when we are aware that we are bringing light to darkness, when we can sense the destiny, the purpose! even though the fires of Egypt or Auschwitz burn, but the indomitable spirit, like a phoenix, that can sing, “I believe in Complete Faith, in the Coming of the Moshiach, and though He May Tarry I Await Daily His Arrival!” sung as Jews literally were marched to gas chambers – is the spirit that allowed, within a short 70 years, that the star once forced as a badge of shame, the symbol of the Jewish people, proudly beacons all Jews to fulfill the infinite promise, that our destiny, in our land; our light, our dream; our people, and most importantly our faith, is eternally present.