The NAME of the Game
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
And, the Children of Israel were fruitful, and increased tremendously, and
multiplied, and became very mighty, and the land was filled with them. And,
a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef ... (Shemos 1:7-8)
When it comes to the Torah, the addition or subtraction of a letter can
tell countless and deep stories. This is especially true of the letter
"vav," which can build connections between two seemingly unrelated ideas --
connections that can save millions of Jewish lives.
In the case of verse seven and verse eight, the letter "vav" connects
together the success and increase of the Jewish people with the coming to
power of a new Egyptian king. By placing an "and" between these two
"events," the Torah, in effect, makes the second statement dependent upon
the first one, as if to say, BECAUSE the Jewish people prospered so, a new
king arose over Egypt, one, unfortunately for the next few generations of
Jews, who did not know Yosef.
In other words, implies the "additional" letter "vav," the new Pharaoh came
to office not simply as a matter of history and politics. This Pharaoh --
and all the pharaohs before and after him -- came to power when he did
because of the effect he was meant to have on the Jewish people, in this
case to decree against them and to enslave them. Ultimately, Pharaoh was
made leader of Egypt to pave the way for the miraculous redemption from
Egyptian slavery, 116 years later.
And, "he did not know Yosef," either. Some say that this Pharaoh once did,
but acted as if he hadn't (deliberate forgetfulness), and some say that he
was born after Yosef had already died. It doesn't make a difference in the
end, because it means the same thing -- IN EVERY GENERATION.
It means that Jewish contributions to non-Jewish society are not like money
in the bank, that we can draw upon in future times of trouble. On the
contrary, just like it happened in Egypt at the beginning of our history,
and later in Spain in the middle of our history, and, more recently, in
Germany and the rest of Europe, when anti-Semitism rears its ugly and
destructive head, we become, quite amazingly and quickly, parasites, rather
than contributors, to their society.
Contribute to our host society? If it doesn't conflict with Torah values,
why not? Depend upon those contributions to society as a hedge against
anti-Semitism? It's not a safe bet, but rather, a societal debt.
About two years ago, while traveling through the States, I "chanced" upon a
recent edition of "The New York Times Magazine." Scanning it for
interesting articles, I was taken aback by one that was about the so-called
"survivalists," groups of people, primarily in the Mid-West, but in other
places as well, who were preparing for the "End-of-Days," long before I and
they had even heard about "Y2K."
But that wasn't what shook me up. What gave me a chill up and down my spine
was how many times someone was quoted as saying something like,
"Yea, we have guns and ammunition ... and we're ready for the big one ..."
"The big one?" the reporter asked.
"Yea, the war against the Jews ... soon there's going to be a big war
against the Jews over the banks and this country of mine!"
The man, and many of his colleagues didn't seem to appreciate the
tremendous contribution the Jewish people have made over the years to the
quality of American life. No, instead, he and many others only saw an
invasion of Jews, people multiplying throughout "his" land, and gaining
tremendous power over "their" banks.
Talk about misperceptions! Hah! We still only make up, let's say, roughly
one percent of the American population. And, we're certainly not
"everywhere"! And own the banks? We wish! You have to admit, this guy's got
his facts all wrong!
But then again, so did Pharaoh. And, then again, so did Ferdinand and
Isabella. And, Hitler certainly had the wrong profile of the Jewish people!
However, does it really make a difference in the end whether they are right
or wrong in their own minds? Perhaps in the very end it does. But, in the
short run, they have convinced themselves, and many others along the way,
and they are still convincing people, and we, the poor Jewish people, have
to suffer for their gross errors in judgment.
One could complain bitterly against Heaven for such gross injustices
against the Jewish people, and mankind in general. However, like a
silencing finger across the lips, that little "vav" comes and reminds us of
the connection between verse seven and verse eight of this week's parshah,
and, most important of all, which posuk comes first:
And, the Children of Israel were fruitful, and increased tremendously, and
multiplied, and became very mighty, and the land was filled with them.
Then, and only then, does this verse follow:
And, a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef ...
The mission of the Jewish people is to be a "light unto nations." The
purpose of exile is to do this while living among the non-Jews, since we
failed to do this while living on the land. Failing to be a strong enough
light to the rest of the world FROM Eretz Yisroel, we, the individual
"candles" of the nation were sent into exile to radiate our light close up.
If we do, then we become the heroes of society, and we merit the
"red-carpet" redemption. If we don't, and our light grows even dimmer while
living among the non-Jews, and, G-d forbid, we even begin to turn to them
for light, then redemption comes in a far less pleasant manner -- in the
guise of leaders who have no problem disregarding our role in building
their country and even putting them into power.
Moshe fed the flock of Yisro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; he
led the flock behind the desert, and came to the mountain of G-d, Chorev.
An angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the
bush, and he saw, behold, the bush burned with fire but the bush was not
consumed. (Shemos 3:1-3)
I recently heard a beautiful connection between this moment in history and
the one in the time of the Chashmonaim, when the oil burned for seven extra
days. In each case, the fuel that produced the flame was not consumed, and,
according to Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, shlita, each time the miracle symbolized
a major turning point in Jewish history was about to begin.
But that was not the only historical turning point the burning bush
symbolized, as Rabbi Chaim Vital explains. According to Rabbi Vital, the
burning bush also signaled an important level of personal rectification on
Moshe's part. Indeed, not just on Moshe's part, but on behalf of Hevel
himself, who never had the chance to achieve perfection.
According to Sha'ar HaGilgulim (Chapter Thirty-Four) and other sources, the
"Nefesh" part of Moshe's soul had been in This World already a few times.
It began its journey in Hevel (heh-bais-lamed), the son of Adam, and after
he was killed by his brother, its next appearance was in the body of his
future brother, Sheis (shin-tav). The letters "shin" from Sheis and the
"heh" from Hevel are two of the letters that make up Moshe's name
(mem-shin-heh), alluding to the path that Moshe's Nefesh had taken up until
However, these letters also allude to the fact that, up until the episode
with the burning bush, Moshe had yet to fully rectify all of the letters of
Hevel's name. Whatever Moshe had gone through up until then -- being put
into the Nile river, raised in Pharaoh's house, forced to flee for his
life, kingship in Cush, and life with Yisro -- it had only allowed him to
rectify the "heh" of Hevel's name.
What does all this mean?
Jewish names describe the essence of the person on a soul level. According
to Sha'ar HaGilgulim, at the time that a Jewish baby is named, the parents
receive some form of Divine inspiration, and name their child according to
Heaven's desire. The parents may spend days in indecision, trying to come
up with a Jewish name they like, but Heaven, which is above time, already
knows the outcome.
Each Jewish name (especially Biblical names) is made up of Hebrew letters,
but the letters themselves represent conceptual realities, just like words
themselves. Hence, letters from each Jewish name can represent different
aspects of one soul, as in the case of Hevel, where the "heh" represented
the aspect of Hevel's name that was already rectified before the burning
However, says Rabbi Vital, when the posuk says:
An angel of G-d appeared to him in a flame (bais-lamed-bais-tav) of fire ...
-- the "bais-lamed" is supposed to be the "leftover" letters from Hevel's
name yet to be rectified, but which were in the process of rectification as
Moshe experienced the spectacle of the bush. This is why, says Rabbi Vital,
the name "Moshe" is called out twice in succession by the angel: to
indicate the transformation of Moshe from before the bush to after the
Hence, the burning bush set in motion the change in history that could
result in a Jewish people that could receive Torah one year later. First
Moshe had to finish up some old "business" so that new "business" could
start, which only goes to reveal how even the major events of Jewish
history, ultimately, can be traced back to the early events of time, and
how, even 5,760 years away from the events of primordial history, what we
do today is to fix up what went on back then.
Moshe came back to G-d and said, "L-rd, why did you send me to do this
evil? For, since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he has done evil
to this people; You have not saved this people at all!" (Shemos 5:22-23)
Seemingly a valid and caring question on Moshe Rabbeinu's behalf, the
Talmud instead states:
For this thing Moshe was punished ... (Sanhedrin 111a)
And what was it that pushed Moshe to the point that he could "criticize"
G-d like that? Says the Talmud:
Rebi Elazar the son of Rebi Yosi said: Once I entered Alexandria of Egypt,
and found a certain elder there, who said to me, "Come, and I will show you
what my ancestors did to your ancestors: some they drowned, some they
killed with the sword, and some they used as bricks ..."
The Egyptian elder was referring to the Jewish children, which his Egyptian
ancestors used to take and make into mortar to build their cities. Why he
felt compelled to tell Rebi Elazar this piece of information, the Talmud
does not say. However, it does confirm that Moshe Rabbeinu had what to be
disturbed about, and perhaps, and even, seemingly, to ask G-d about?
So why does the Torah and the Talmud both take Moshe to task for this -- as
if he should have known better?
The answer is, maybe he should have, and maybe he could not have. After
all, it was the first redemption the Jewish had ever experienced -- how
could Moshe completely understand ALL the details of what it takes to
prepare the nation for redemption? Maybe what Moshe was going through, and
how G-d reacted to him, was a lesson for the generations of the future,
regarding their redemptions from their exiles.
For example, not every Jew left Egypt with Moshe and the fleeing nation.
Aside from the four-fifths of the Jews who reportedly died in the Plague of
Darkness (Rashi, Shemos 13:18), there were all the deaths that occurred
before Moshe was even appointed "Deliverer," as the Egyptian elder
testified. Not every Jew merited redemption, it seems, and what Moshe
witnessed and suffered through was part of a "weeding out" process to leave
mass remaining that could and would leave Egypt.
In fact, in the Talmud, that is the discussion just prior to the one about
the elder and Moshe's punishment:
Rebi Simai said: It says, "I will take you to Me as a people ..." (Shemos
6:7), and it says, "I will bring you [to the land of Canaan] ..." (Shemos
6:8), creating a connection between the going out of Egypt and the coming
into the land [of Canaan]: Just as only 600,000 (males above the age of
twenty) came into the land, so, too, did only 600,000 leave Egypt.
It seems that Divine Providence knew all along what It was doing, who was
going and who would not.
Because, there is only so much G-d will do to open the minds and the hearts
of people to truth. He will only provide so many clues and only so many
signs; the rest depends up the self-honesty of people and their
self-control, that is, their ability to pass up comfort for truth when put
to the test. Those who didn't survive to leave Egypt just didn't get the
message; indeed, they rejected it out of hand!
The most frightening thing about this section of Talmud is its conclusion
-- five words that ought to ring loud in the hearts of all Jews. In English
they are: Rava said, "That is the way it will be in the time of Moshiach as
No one argues with Rava, and lest one find these words too obscure, Rashi
explains them clearly. Is closed-mindedness and coldness toward Torah and
tradition pushing many away from a chance to be redeemed?
I don't know if they (those who died in Egypt) asked that same question
themselves, since it was the first redemption in Jewish history. However,
millennia later, it is a question that many MUST ask themselves today, for
we, unlike previous generations, have all the mistakes of the past to teach
us how to avoid being "weeded out"; we have the ability and knowledge to
transform Rava's ominous words into a warning only, and not an automatic
A song with musical accompaniment for the day of Shabbos. It is good to
thank G-d ... (Tehillim 92:1-2)
With this tehillah, we accept upon ourselves the holiness of Shabbos each
week (in Kabbalos Shabbos). This is the third of the eleven tehillim that
Moshe Rabbeinu wrote (the first letters of the first four words spell,
"L'Moshe," "To Moshe"; Pesikta), and it is dedicated to Yehudah, whose very
name alludes to our need to constantly thank G-d for all that we have
(Bereishis 29:35). Shabbos is a great time to do this.
Other sources say that Adam, in fact, composed this tehillah, upon seeing
the breath-taking beauty of G-d's creation, just before Shabbos came in for
the first time. Pirkei d'Rebi Eliezer (19) says that this is true, but that
it had become forgotten over time, and Moshe recovered it and taught it to
the Jews in slavery in Egypt, after he won the right from Pharaoh for them
to rest once a week on Shabbos (in this week's parshah; I didn't plan it
that way -- in the course of discussing Kabbalos Shabbos, it just
"happened" to be time to discuss this tehillah).
The truth is, all the suffering the Jewish people underwent in Egypt was
the result of Adam's not giving thanks to G-d for the good (his wife) he
Adam said [to G-d,] "The woman You gave to be with me, she gave to me, and
I ate." (Bereishis 3:12)
"Here he denied the good." (Rashi)
Because Adam pushed the blame off himself and onto his wife for breaking
the command not to eat, and, in the process, denied the good that G-d had
done for him, the decree of expulsion resulted. Expulsion from Gan Aiden
was the first ever exile of mankind, and the "root" of all exiles and
oppression to follow -- especially for the Jewish people -- until this very
"It is good to thank G-d" -- you better believe it! as Adam and mankind
have learned the hard way. And, realizing this and showing G-d gratitude is
a crucial key to ending any exile, and exile: personal or national.
This is why Shabbos is likened to one-sixtieth of the World-to-Come, a time
when we shall be able to fully appreciate G-d's gift of life to us. On
Shabbos, by abstaining from certain "creative activities," we are compelled
to sit back and look at all that G-d does to keep us going, and if we don't
do that, then we deny both the opportunity of Shabbos and G-d's good, just
as Adam did.
This is also why the Jewish people were brought to a point of "kotzer
ruach" -- complete and utter hopelessness. What better way was there to
make the point that only G-d saves us than to be saved by G-d from a
hopeless situation? Even Moshe had to fail his first attempt to save the
Jewish people so that no one would mistake Moshe for G-d, in terms of his
Hence, the more we appreciate that all good comes from G-d, and the more we
rely upon Him and less on the physical world around us, the less of a jolt
the Final Redemption will have to be for us. In fact, relying upon G-d IS
the beginning of any redemption, because, the moment G-d sees our foot go
out to walk in His direction, the moment He reaches out and puts His hand
under our foot to create secure "ground," so-to-speak.
This is what redemption from Egypt was all about, and this is what Shabbos
is about each week. And, learning and integrating this message is what we,
the Jewish people, are supposed to be about, for ourselves, and for the
world around us. For us, that is the "name of the game."