For the Love of G-d
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
It was at the end of four hundred and thirty years, and it was on that very
day that all the legions of G-d left the land of Egypt.
Every letter in the Torah is holy and crucial. Every word in the Torah
tells its own story. Every parshah has its own important relevance as a
piece of the puzzle that history has been constructing. This parshah is
In a very true and real sense, nothing exists beyond Tanach (Torah,
Prophets, and Writings) - the ultimate irony of history! Western society
thinks it has moved WAY beyond the "Bible," when it fact, it will
eventually find out, it is just another story within it, a big-budget
version of what has already taken place well back in the past.
(Suddam Hussein considers himself to be the reincarnation of
Nebuchadnetzar, king of Babylonia, where modern-day Iraq is today. It
wouldn't be the first time in history that someone has prophesized without
even knowing it.)
This is what the Midrash says:
When G-d made creation, He looked into the Torah [as an architect does a
blueprint]. (Bereishis Rabbah 1:2)
Ben Bag Bag said, "Turn it over, turn it over, for everything is within it
[Torah] . . . (Pirkei Avos 5:26)
Thus, EVERYTHING is within it, INCLUDING us, and even those yet to be
born. And, if you know how, as the Vilna Gaon did, you can find out
exactly where your life is hinted to within the Torah, and what your
purpose is on this earth in this lifetime.
That is how the Torah can speak to us in every generation, for its values
are eternal and its morals always applicable. Nothing ever really changes
in history - only the externals undergo transformations from generation to
Therefore, redemption from Egypt is applicable to every Jew in every
generation. After all, redemption of the Jew is not about space and time,
but about the relationship between G-d and His people, even down to the
level of the individual. This is what G-d Himself intimated when He told
G-d said, I have indeed seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt
and I have heard its outcry because of its taskmasters, for I have known of
its sufferings. I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt and to
bring it up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing
with milk and honey . . . (Shemos 3:7-8)
Redemption of a Jew is about G-d's love for His child, and about His
child's love for Him. This is why on Pesach we read the song of all songs,
"Shir HaShirim," by Shlomo HaMelech, written by a man who loved G-d
profoundly and who was therefore inspired to write about G-d's profound
love for His people.
Love of G-d, therefore, will be the theme of this week's shiur.
All the Children of Israel did as G-d had commanded Moshe and Aharon, so
did they do. (Shemos 12:15)
In the classic work, "The Path Of The Just," by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
(Ramchal), he discusses the mitzvah of Fear of G-d. There he reveals how
there are really TWO levels of fear of G-d; the more common one that
translates into a fear of punishment for sinning, and the far more
sophisticated one, which we will discuss shortly.
In the case of "Level 1" fear of G-d, a person believes in G-d and His
"threat" to punish the sinner. He does not necessarily relate to why the
sin he is tempted to perform is wrong, and might otherwise do, had he not
been averse to pain and suffering in this world or the next one. Childish
as this level of fear of G-d may seem, it still counts for something at the
end of the day.
However, there is a higher level of fear of G-d that is closer to the idea
of seeing (the root of the word "fear" and "see" are the same) reality the
way G-d does. On this level, one abstains from sinning because, like G-d,
they see such actions as being wasteful and counterproductive. On this
level, fear of G-d more closely resembles love of G-d.
For example, when the Jews of Egypt "did as G-d had commanded Moshe and
Aharon," did they do it because they had been afraid of suffering the same
fate as the Egyptians, or of their 12,000,000 Jewish brethren of whom had
recently died in the Plague of Darkness? The later reason quite possibly,
and for many, quite certainly.
However, the prophet wrote:
Thus said G-d: I recall for you the kindness of your youth, the love of
your nuptials, your following Me in the Wilderness, into an unsown
land. (Yirmiyahu 2:2)
This states outright that, even though the Jewish people had plenty of
things to fear, the main driving force of the Jewish people at that time
was their love of G-d.
As usual, a comparison can be made to a parent-child relationship.
A loving parent has to make tough decisions regarding the present and
future of his children. Psychologists talk about something called "tough
love," a way of describing the unpopular actions we take on behalf of our
children for THEIR benefit. In other words, they kick, scream and yell,
"YOU HATE ME!!" Because you have denied them something that, in the LONG
run, they will be better off without.
If they are fortunate, one day they will grow up and gain the wisdom their
parents had that allowed them to suffer the verbal abuse of their children
while sticking to their guns. They will, more than likely, look back with
LOVE and AFFECTION, as they recall the fortitude of their parents to do the
right thing on their behalf, as opposed to the "easy" thing.
They might even cringe when they recall the tough time they gave their
parents at the time. If only they could have gained the wisdom at the
time, and have avoided the conflict altogether! But alas! They are only
children, so what can be expected from them at those ages?
However, the Jewish people in Egypt were adults. And, the systematic
destruction of Egypt and Egyptian culture was a direct and awesome
revelation of the Creator, His plan for creation, and His willingness to
get "involved" to help it along. "Yetzias Mitzrayim" had been both a
physical AND a spiritual exodus that had the effect of elevating the Jewish
people to a whole new vision of reality, one from which they could relate
to G-d's perspective of history, and this drew out of them tremendous love
for G-d, and the loyalty that comes with it.
Moshe said to the people, "Remember this day on which you departed from
Egypt, from the house of bondage, for with a strong hand G-d removed you
from here, and therefore chometz may not be eaten. (Shemos 13:3)
Because G-d took us out of Egypt we should not eat chometz? What is the
connection between this and that?
The Rambam writes:
What is the path to loving Him and fearing Him? When a person contemplates
His works and His awesome and mighty creations, and sees in them
incomparable and endless wisdom, IMMEDIATELY he will love, praise, glorify,
and greatly desire to know his Great Name, as Dovid wrote, "My soul thirsts
for G-d, the Living A'lmighty" (Tehillim 42:3). (Yad, Hilchos Yesodei
Interesting how the Rambam started talking about both fear of G-d and love
of G-d, but ended up with only love of G-d. It is also interesting to note
the use of the word "immediately" in terms of the response one has when
contemplating creation, and the wisdom G-d employed to create it.
However, even more amazing is that we need a halachah from the Rambam to
teach us what should be the most obvious, the most natural thing in the
world for us to do! What does it take to sit down for a couple of moments
each day and contemplate the awesome beauty and gift of life? We are like
people who pay to go see a good movie, and instead get caught up with local
discussions in the seats around us!
Then again, that is the job of the "Sitra Achra." He was "hired"
specifically to use whatever he can to distract us from the naturally
beautiful and awesome world in which we have been placed. If he didn't do
his job, then we'd remain focussed on creation from G-d's perspective, and
love of G-d would flow from us like a mountain river running downhill.
That's what the Rambam is pointing out. Love of G-d is a "natural"
response of a human being to the wondrous world in which he
lives. However, like a river that has been dammed up and can no longer
flow, so too does our love of G-d become "dammed up" as a result of the
myriad of distractions we live with each day. Remove the dam, says the
Rambam, and love of G-d flows IMMEDIATELY like unimpeded water.
That was what the redemption-experience had been for the Jewish people. It
blew them away. They might have feared punishment for disobedience had
they not been busy feeling love for G-d after seeing how wisely He dealt
with creation, and how much love He has invested in it. Exile dams up the
hearts of the Jewish people; redemption clears those "dams" away.
There is another name for the distractions of life: Chometz. Like debris
that makes its way down the river, only to get stuck on the rocks and block
the flow of water, our physical dependencies can block the spiritual
arteries to our spiritual hearts. And, since the physical world mimics the
spiritual world to teach us about that which we can't see, it is not
surprising that the physical arteries and heart are affected in the same
way by the "unhealthy" things we "consume."
The posuk is saying:
Your experience of leaving Egypt has cleaned away all the spiritual debris
that blocked your heart from feeling love of G-d. To maintain that love,
you must keep away the debris. Do not become DEPENDENT on the niceties,
the "chometz" of physical life, for once you do, you will become distracted
by your pursuit of them, and you'll block your flow of love for Me. They
will dam up your heart, just as Egypt had done to you before I freed you.
And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes,
for with a strong hand G-d removed us from Egypt. (Shemos 13:16)
The parshah emphasizes that G-d not only redeemed us, but that He did it
with a "strong hand." What difference does it make HOW G-d did it, as long
as He did do it in the end? The answer to this question is similar to the
one presented here:
With TEN statements G-d made creation. What does this teach, if He [G-d]
could have done so with ONE statement? It is to punish the evil for
destroying a world made with ten statements, and to reward the righteous
for upholding a world made with ten statements. (Pirkei Avos 5:1)
In other words, to create a world with one statement or with ten statements
is the same thing for G-d, but it is something altogether different for
man. Emphasis is both the stimulator and expression of sensitivity. If I
am aware of the importance of something, then I will be emphatic about
it. Likewise, when someone else is emphatic about something, I am made
more sensitive to the importance of the idea to that person.
G-d made creation with ten statements because that sensitizes us to the
importance of creation in HIS eyes, and more importantly, of man to G-d:
G-d, what is man that You recognize him; the son of a frail human that You
reckon with him? (Tehillim 104:3)
G-d's answer? He is the object of My love, of My desire, of My reason for
making the entire universe. Take a look at that detail - a detail so
beautiful and so awesome, and so unbelievable that it leaves one
breathless, with a sense of being unable to "compute" the extent to which
G-d has made EVERYTHING.
It is overkill times infinity. It is not just the "hand" of G-d. It is a
STRONG hand of G-d, of a G-d so phenomenally involved in the affairs of His
creation that when one contemplates the depth of that involvement, says the
Rambam, and said Dovid HaMelech, his soul just about pops out of hit like
an anxious sprinter who can't wait for the starting gun.
That is redemption. As the holiest song ever to be composed, "Shir
HaShirim," revealed, the soul of man is lovesick for G-d. It is "shackled"
in a body that simply does not understand what love of G-d is, or why it is
important. Freedom is when the soul can find a way to break through and
drink from the love G-d has for man.
It can be done in a number of ways. Torah learning can accomplish this,
and the more sublime and beautiful the Torah-concept, the more this is
true. It can be done experientially, as the Rambam has prescribed, and as
life as shown us. And, when we enlist the help of G-d, either way becomes
more readily available to us since this is really what life is all about.
And, as the Talmud says, life was made for fear of G-d (Shabbos
30b). However, as the Rambam implies, on the ultimate level of fear of
G-d, there really is no difference from the ultimate expression of that
fear: Love of G-d.
Have a great Shabbos,
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.