Mishpatim - Reaching Higher for Holiness

The parshah is dominated by rules, regulations, and legal ways for conduct. Until the fourth aliya, and somewhat out of context the following verse appears.

"Be a holy people to Me. Do not flesh torn off in the field by a predator. Cast it to the dogs."
- Shmot 22:30

Why suddenly at this point after all the rules, and legal guidance, that came earlier does this verse appear here?
Why is it associated with, of all halachot, about eating treif meat?

Rashi comments on this verse saying: "If you are holy and separated from abominations, carcasses, and dead prey, then you are Mine"

The Siftei Chachamim takes note of Rashi's language, asking "Why does Rashi add the word 'If' to his commentary? Why, so that you should not read the verse Be a holy people to Me as a commandment."

This perspective puts the verse on another level, creating a certain level of expectation for behavior. But still, why put it in the same verse as the commandment not to eat treif meat.

The Ramban addresses this issue in the verse, saying "And now that [the verse] comes to start with the eating prohibitions, it opens with the statement Be a holy people to Me. One might think that it should be appropriate for people to eat anything, with no food prohibitions, only to be pure in soul, that one should just eat clean things that will not cause your soul to be vulgar. That is why this verse begins with Be holy people to Me - that is to say I [G-d] want you to be Holy People that you should be suitable to Me, to connect to Me, for I am Holy - therefore don't disgrace your souls by eating disgusting things."

Quite literally, you are what you eat. That the first level of self purification is not thinking good thoughts, or meditation, it is taking action with conduct in your life, and considering what it is you eat. Not only is this just your own self-awareness, but this is the step towards ultimately growing closer to G-d.

In the sefer Netivot Shalom, HaRav Sholom Noach Berezovsky (Slonim Rebbe), asks about another side of the verse. He asks why does the verse include 'to Me', why couldn't it just say Be a Holy People?

To answer this, the Rebbe says to look at an earlier verse in Parshat Yitro "'You will be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation to Me.' These are the words that you must relate to the Israelites." (Shmot 19:6)
That here also the phrase 'to Me' is seemingly redundant, that it would have been enough to say You will be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.

So it is saying a  formula where one part is dependent on the other, that If you will be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, then you will be mine. And likewise, if you will be a holy people, then you be mine. The Rebbe says "For a Jew, holiness is the essential condition for being Jewish, that it is the essential value of holiness that is in Jewishness. For there are many warnings throughout the Torah about holiness, and for the Jewish people to maintain their holiness.

"It is like Hashem says my children don't be disgusting, the message that Hashem has to the Jew is 'My child, behold my child you are the child of the King, don't be disgusting, don't disgust yourself in filthy talk that is not fitting to the child of the King. There are things that a simple man that he would not consider to be a wrongdoing, but for you, the child of the King, they are disgusting.' This is what Hakodesh Baruch Hu says to Jews - Behold you are the child of the King! Do not sink yourself into things that are the opposite of holiness! That all these things push you further away from Hashem Blessed be He and not appropriate for the child of King.

"And the reason the holy Torah did not go into detail about the idea of holiness, about what to do and what not to do, because holiness is subjective and differs from person to person according to their level, that is how much one feels a child of the King."

In that sense, Rashi's initial comment on this verse is even more meaningful. That to be holy is not a commandment, because it is absolutely a subjective and individual matter. Commandments are accompanied with detailed instructions for how to perform the commandment. Holiness is a personal issue that every Jew must confront and determine for himself, how to bring more holiness into his life, and how to better connect to Hashem. For ultimately, above the performance of the commandments dictated by the Torah, that our goal is to reach, and reach higher for holiness.

Bo - Patience, Waiting and Redemption

It says in this week's parsha:
"There was a night of vigil for G-d, [preparing] to bring them out of Egypt. This night remains for G-d a vigil to the Israelites for all generations." (Shmot 12:42)

The verse mentions a night of vigil two times. The second time it mentions that this is a night of vigil also for all generations.

Why mention night of vigil (ליל שמרים) twice in the same verse, and why the difference in the latter half of the verse to add 'for all generations'?

First, we should note how Rashi approaches this verse.
"The night of vigil, that Hakodesh Baruch Hu keeps and expects to fulfill his promise to take them out of Egypt."
"This night remains for G-d, this is the night that He told Avraham, on this night I will redeem your children."
"A vigil to the Israelites for all generations, protected from the harmful agents."

What is Rashi referring to in explaining A vigil to the Israelites for all generations? The Siftei Chachamim raises this question, and provides the answer as 'every night like this, every year will be protected from harmful agents.'

So the two mentions of night of vigil (ליל שמרים) are represented very different. The first instance focuses on expectations and fulfillment of past promises, while the latter instance emphasizes protection and promises to the future.

The Rashbam, in his typical style focusing on the plain meaning of the text, explains the first instance of 'night of vigil' as a language of waiting - like "and his father suspended judgment" (Breisheit 37:12). Meaning, like a father, Hashem waits patiently, keeping that which he wants to give. The redemption that He holds the ability to provide, he keeps safe, and waits for the right time to give it.

How long has Hashem been waiting?

"[G-d] said to Avram, "Know for sure that your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. They will be enslaved and oppressed. But I will finally bring judgment against the nation who enslaves them, and they will leave with great wealth." (Breisheit 15:13-14)

Waiting 400 years? No actually the final wait was even longer.

"They settled in Egypt for 30 (שלושים) years and 400 years." (Shmot 12:40)

The Rashbam explains this verse by referencing the original promise in Breisheit, describing the accounting for the years. He says that the original accounting was to cover 4 generations, and the Rashbam brings a verse from parshah Yitro, 'Where my enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for their descendants, to the third (שלושים) and fourth [generation]' (Shmot 20:5)

Here we see that Third generation, and 30 years are written the same. And we see that third and fourth generations are made equivalent. The Rashbam emphasizes the significance of this period for 'perhaps the children will repent - do tshuvah'

This is the effort of divine waiting. We see how broad is G-d's mercy, and to what lengths he stretches to find merit. But still why wasn't the 400 years enough? That was already 4 generations?

The Kedushat Levi explains that at the time of the Exodus, the Israelites had few merits that made them worthy of redemption. He adds that G-d says that He has mercy and kindness for only one nation, for the nation of Israel.

Here we can see this preservation of special kindness towards Israel and the act of divine waiting, this can be explained by the Rashbam's answer. It is the anticipation of seeing the people of Israel repent, and do tshuvah. G-d waited as long as he could before they would be unredeemable, before implementing his promise.

The latter part of our verse This night remains for G-d a vigil to the Israelites for all generations, has practical ramifications in halachah. We learn, as Rashi explained, that this is a night of ultimate protection, where the usual dangers are neutralized (Pesachim 109B). The Mishna Brurah explains that on the night of the 15th of Nissan, the night of vigil (ליל שמרים) you do not need to recite the sections of the bedtime Shma, after paragraph of V'ahavta - from the paragraph of Yeshev B'Seter Alyon. These sections deal in beseeching G-d for his protection, and in the practical sense, this night is protected inherently from G-d's promise.

To conclude, I think it is good to see how the Or HaChaim approaches our verse. He says that the verse (Shmot 12:42) alludes to 5 amazing miracles that took place on this night, and we see that for all generations is both following The Exodus and proceeding it..
  1. (Breisheit 14:15) In the days of Avraham
    "And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus."
    This was a battle where Avraham was far outnumbered, yet nevertheless was completely victorious, showing another divine miracle.
  2. (Shmot 12:29) The Exodus from Egypt
    "And it came to pass at midnight, that the L-RD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle."
    Following this episode, the miraculous exodus from Egypt finally, actually began.
  3. (Kings II 19:35) The confrontation of Hizkiyahu and Sancheriv
    "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the L-RD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses."
    Hizkiyahu had said that night is conducive to miracles.
  4. (Esther 6:1) The restless night of the king
    "On that night, the king's sleep was disturbed, and he ordered to bring the book of the records, the chronicles, and they were read before the king."
    The miracle of the saving of Mordechai, and ultimately the Jewish people, the verse states specifically 'this' night.
  5. The ultimate redemption
    It says in our verse This night remains for G-d a vigil to the Israelites for all generations, meaning until the very last generation - that being the generation of the Moshiach, please in our days.
 So we see that through our own efforts and working on improving our actions we can influence the absolute course of history. G-d is essentially patient with us, and waiting, anticipating and looking forward to granting us the ultimate redemption, when we are truly deserving of it.

Vaiera - Reaching Inner Potential

The parshah with the verse.

"And thus spoke G-d (Elokim) to Moshe, and said to him 'I am Hashem (YKVK)'" (Shmot 6:2)

It is a very interesting verse to begin the parshah. Rashi explains the statement "and said to him 'I am Hashem (YKVK)'" saying that this means "(G-d) is considered reliable to pay a good reward for those that go before Him, and I didn't send you for nothing."

What does Rashi come to explain in this verse?
Why in one verse is G-d described in several different ways, through different names?
Why is Moshe referred to by name, then a word later referred to again as 'to him'?

The Kli Yakar carefully analyzes and weighs the presence of every word in this verse. He says that the phrase 'to him' is completely not necessary for this verse, since the verse already mentions the name Moshe. And the verse should be explained according to Cha'zal.
"He is called Moshe, not because he was borne from the water,  because Moshe is a present tense name. The spirit of G-d spoke to  Pharaoh's daughter telling her to call him Moshe, as a language of pulling or taking. He will be the one to pull Israel out of exile (out of the proud waters [Tehilim: 124:5]).
"Had Moshe inspected his name, then he would have known the truth that only by him would Israel be redeemed, and he wouldn't have started negotiating with G-d"

This refers to what we discussed in parshah Shmot regarding Moshe and how he questioned G-d's promises (see Shmot - Darkest Before the Dawn), where G-d was very critical of Moshe's perceived lack of faith.

And the Kli Yakar continues "Although, from that episode, we can learn merit from Moshe in how humble he was and he was critical of his speaking abilities and didn't feel that he was appropriate for the mission G-d was sending him on."

Understanding this, the Kli Yakar goes on to explain the purpose of every word in this verse.
  • "And thus spoke" - a tough language (וידבר)
  • "G-d (Elokim)" - the language of the characteristic of judgment
  • "to Moshe" - this means that he is suitable to be judged for not checking his name, Moshe, and understanding that the inherent meaning of his name is that he would pull and take Israel from the exile. And out of this, Moshe wouldn't have had to say "why do You mistreat Your people?" (Shmot 5:22).

Hashem is filled with mercy.
  • "and said" - is a softer way of speaking (ויומר)
  • "to him" - for his essence, since after he was critical of himself of not being a good speaker he had said to G-d "Why did You send me?" (Shmot 5:22). And the purpose of the phrase "to him" was to respond to Moshe with 'I am the G-d of mercy', since His name and His essence mutually contradict
  • "I am Hashem (YKVK)" - thus G-d said this showing he is full of compassion to judge Moshe favorably.

Two names of G-d, show G-d's different aspects from the absolute judge, to the most compassionate defender. One name of Moshe describing two eras from literally being taken from water to himself taking the people of Israel from the darkest exile.

All of the rebuke and criticism aimed at Moshe from the end of the previous parshah was essentially directed towards Moshe's lack of faith, not in G-d, but in himself. His grand humbleness bordered on lack of self-esteem, denying his essential fate - as signified by his name - and threatening to not realize the potential that he bore within.

In one verse, all of the rebuke is present in the opening verse to this parshah, and also G-d's change to compassion is apparent, appreciating Moshe's humble spirit as well. So Rashi is explaining in the words "I didn't send you for nothing" to both answer Moshe's question of "Why did You send me?" and emphasize that the great potential that Moshe carries in him was not created in vain, and should be utilized to its fullest.

Throughout our own lives we constantly question our purpose or the purpose of the predicaments that we find ourselves in. Even in these trying and dark moments, where we feel we can't go forward or can't get out of these places, we have to look at ourselves and realize that we were created with an amazing potential that is carried within, and at these moments, our most challenging moments, it is not for us to question our existence but to tap that inner potential and realize our destiny.