Parshas Shemos: Level of Avos, Words that Kill and Prayer Power

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 01/01/18

Shemos Introduction

Whenever you learn anything interesting throughout the entire sefer of Shemos, you always have a great d’var Torah for Pesach. So as we go through the parshiyos of Galus and Yetzias Mitzrayim, take note.

1) The Five Books

We often think about the five books of the Torah, and we hear the English words of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and wonder where those words come from, because they are not the translation of Bereishis, Shemos, etc.

The trust is that these English titles are in fact based on Chazal. Ramban quotes in the beginning of Shemos that Chazal call Sefer Bereishis as: “Sefer HaYitzirah”, the book of formation (of the Jewish nation), also translated as Genesis. Our forefathers, the Avos and Imahos implanted a foundation and a creation of what the future would look like based on their actions for their descendents. This hints to ma’aseh avos siman l’banim.

They called Sefer Shemos “Sefer HaGeulah”, or Exodus. Shemos is all about how the Jews were saved from Egypt and how Hashem took them out with great nissim and revealed Himself to them and gave them the Torah.

Next, is Sefer Vayikra which Chazal call “Toras Kohanim,” the laws of sacrifices, carried out by the Kohanim, thus called Leviticus. Numbers is ‘Chumash HaPekudim’, the Book of the (Multiple) Countings of the Jews. Finally, Deuteronomy, which is probably the least understood name, is simply a translation (it means ‘repeat’) of that which Chazal call Sefer Devarim: Mishna Torah, the repeat of the Torah laws, because Moshe reviewed much of the Torah with the Jews before his death. Hence, the English names are actually in this case well grounded in Chazal!

2) What is the Full Exodus?

Ramban says that if we think Sefer Shemos, Exodus, there’s something very curious about that which is found in the Sefer. Bereishis is about the formation of the Jewish nation, through the Avos and Imahos and sons of Yaakov. They go down to Egypt at the end, in exile based on God’s command. Shemos opens up with a discussion of the nation in Egypt and quickly launches into the hardships and subjugation brought about by Egypt. Moshe is then chosen to be the moshian shel yisrael, redeemer, and together with Aharon they faithfully carry out the makos and brings the Jews out of Egypt.

At that point, one would think that Sefer Shemos should now end. They were slaves and then they were miraculously freed. Next, should be Vayikrah, where they should get the Torah laws, build the mishkan, which is where the sacrifices of Vayikrah will all be brought. So why is it that Sefer Shemos, which is about the Exodus, contains the story of the Ma’amad Har Sinai, the acceptance of the Torah and the building of the mishkan?!

Purpose of the Exodus

Ramban explains with conviction that the Torah is teaching us a lesson for life. The Jews were not saved from Egypt so that they could be physically free. On the contrary, they were meant to go from being servants of Pharaoh to instead being servants of Hashem. Their servitude in Egypt was an in vivo training for what it means to be a slave. Hallilu Avdei Hashem, v’lo avdei Pharoah. Therefore, they were not freed until they went to the desert, stood at Har Sinai and accepted the Torah from Hashem. Then, they had to return to the maaleh, high level, of their forefathers, by building a mishkan, a dwelling place for Hashem. Only then was the Exodus complete. This is why Shemos contains the physical saving of the Jews from Egypt, and also the spiritual commitments and work of the nation via Har Sinai and the mishkan.  

3) Original Vs. Replica

Ramban’s comment about the fact that when the Jews built the mishkan they returned back to the level of their forefathers, “v’el ma’alas avosam yashuvu” deserves our attention.

It’s a phenomenal comment because a lot of times we think about, for example, the fact that Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah, the imahos they had three things in their tents.  They had an anan that was always there, representing the divine Shechinah.  They had beracha metzuah b’issah that the bread remained hot and fresh, and, according to some mefarshim, plentiful throughout the week. They had the nare daluk m’erev Shabbos l’erev Shabbos, that the lights that Sarah, Rivka and Rochel and Leah lit on Friday stayed lit for the entire Shabbos and throughout the entire week. It’s interesting because we often think that the Imahos had a replica of what there would be in the mishkan and Beis HaMikdash. The lechem hapanim stayed hot from week to week, and so you see that Sarah and the Imahos all had that. We have the nare daluk, in the mishkan and beis hamikdash, the menorah stayed burning. The cloud of Hashem’s glory was always present. So, it seems to be that the imahos replicated what the Beis HaMikdash and the Mishkan had.  However, that’s not what the Ramban is saying. He is pointing out the exact opposite!  

Ramban is saying that the original was the Avos and Imahos. Their tents were the epotime of service of Hashem and a place for the Divine Presence to shine. The mishkan and mikdash were a replica of that! The avos and the imahos brought down the shechinah, and that’s the ultimate greatness and that’s the “v’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’socham,” each of us can bring down a mikdash and a mishkan and bring down Hashem into our lives.  We should all be zocheh to do that.

4) Pharaoh and The Jewish Problem

‘Havah Nischakmah lo’ (Shemos 1:10). Pharaoh was trying to figure out how he was going to deal with the Jewish problem, and this was the start of all the galiyos. Maharal explains (his source is the Zohar) the Four Exiles are all hinted to in Mitzrayim. This is the ultimate question that all the goyim ask: How do we outsmart the Jews?

Ramban points out a psychological point which is that they weren’t just going to wipe out the Jews and kill them because it would be a tremendously disrespectful thing to murder an entire nation, especially one that the king himself, the original Pharaoh, in the times of Yosef, had invited to come down there; you don’t do that to your guests. Also, the people around would not stand for that, and so we have to come up with a way that we could subjugate them and get around that problem. We’re still going to have a lot of PR and people are going to approve of what we’re doing.

Political Correctness

This has not changed over the ages. The Nazis has the same problem which they searched to answer. ‘Hava nischakmah lo’ means, how can we get rid of them in the most politically correct way. This is still a problem that we face today in all the challenges to Jewish existence.

5) Moshe’s “Tov”

Moshe was born and his mother saw that he was good. “Vateireh oso ki tov hu vatitzpeneihu,” (Shemos 2:2). She thus hid him. Ramban says it’s obvious that every mother loves their child and finds them beautiful, so to say in the pasuk that she saw that he was ‘tov’ is redundant. This is why Chazal explain it further. The entire house was filled with light when Moshe was born, and, even more so, Miriam prophesied “my mother is going to give birth to the moshian shel Yisrael” Thus, the Torah is telling us that there was an extra tov by Moshe.

6) How Did Moshe Kill the Mitzri?

Ramban talks about a fascinating concept  of “halehargeini ata omeir” (Shemos 2:14). Dasan and Aviram were fighting and Moshe said: Rasha! Don’t hit your friend. They replied, “Are you going to kill us the same way you killed the Mitzri?” Rashi says that we learn from this pasuk that Moshe killed the Mitzri with the sheim hameforash. Rashi translates the pasuk as: Halehargeini, will you kill me.  Ata omeir, with your speech, just like you killed the Mitzri.

Ramban states that Rashi’s mekor is Shemos Rabbah 1:35. However, al pi p’shat, Ramban states that Rashi and Chazal are difficult because how would Dasan and Aviram have known that Moshe killed the Mitzri if in fact Moshe only used a Sheim HaMeforash?

Moshe Had Saved Dasan

The truth is that Chazal themselves answer this by explaining that Dasan and Aviram were actually present when Moshe killed the Mitzri. That Mitzri had stolen Dasan’s wife, Shelomis Bas Divri (see Rashi Vayikrah 24:10) and when the Mitzri saw that he was caught, he started beating Dasan and was going to kill him.  Moshe actually intervened and saved Dasan’s life. Dasan and Aviram were both present and they saw Moshe kill the Mitzri.

If you ask: If this is true, then why did Dasan and Aviram cause Moshe so much heartache?! To answer this I quote Chasam Sofer’s famous line uttered in reference to a man who was badgering him and causing him much pain: Chasam Sofer commented to him son and students: “I don’t know this man. Why does he hate me? I never did him a favor!”

Dasan and Aviram badgered Moshe throughout his tenure as the Jewish leader until they ended up swallowed up in the ground along with Korach and his followers, which they were a part.

Dasan and Aviram Fight

In truth, Chazal explain further that Shelomis ran away to her brother’s home. Her brother was Aviram, who was caught fighting with his brother-in-law Dasan. When Moshe stopped them, they were both in the machlokes mindset and thus threatened him as well.

Touch of Death

Back to Ramban’s question: Al pi p’shat what’s going on here, how did Dasan and Aviram know Moshe killed the Mitzri with his words?

Some Mefarshim, including Maharal, explain that one of the ways to kill with the Sheim Hameforesh is that you need to actually touch the person in order to make it effective.  He explains according to Rashi that they saw Moshe touch the Mitzri. Indeed, Ramban himself says that perhaps Moshe had to touch the Mitzri.

New Translation

Ramban says that al pi p’shat the way to translate the pasuk is: Halihargeini ata omer, are you thinking to kill me, is that what is on your mind just like you killed the Mitzri?! Thus, Ramban bipasses the entire discussion of whether Moshe used his words to kill the Mitzri. It comes out that ata omer simply means, ‘are you thinking’. This is interesting because we do talk to ourselves, and sometimes we do think in terms of words.

7) Ibn Ezra: Hashem’s Omnipotent Knowledge

“Vayar Elokim es Bnei Yisrael vayeida Elokim (Shemos 2:25)”. What does that mean that Hashem saw the Bnei Yisrael? Ibn Ezra explains: Hashem saw the affliction that the Egyptian were inflicting upon them, that which was revealed to the eye. Vayeida Elokim,  He knew what they were doing in private as well.

So much of life is about what happens in the public and what happens in the private. Yitziyas Mitzrayim teaches us the recognition that Hashem is “vayar”.  He sees everything that happens on the outside, and He is also “vayeida”, He knows everything on the inside.  Hashem knows our thoughts, and he knows the things that go on in our private lives.  He knows everything.

Rashi: Hashem Took Heart

Rashi says: Vayeida Elokim means that Hashem thought about it. He put his heart, kiviyachol, into it, and didn’t turn away from the Jews.

Ramban: Hashem Revealed Himself When Bnei Yisrael Cried

Ramban argues, and says: First it means that Hashem says: I’m hiding from you, and I’m making myself as if I don’t see it. Meaning, I’m allowing it to happen.  However, once they cried out, then Hashem says: I’m no longer hiding my face from you, and now I’m going to be conscious of these things, the affliction that you’re suffering, and now that you’re calling to me and turning to me, I’m going to make myself known and I will redeem you.

8) Hashem Reflects Us

“Ekyeh asher Ekyeh” (Shemos 3:13). Hashem says to Moshe: I will be what I will be.  Ramban makes a famous comment here based on Chazal which is: k’sheim she’ata hoveh imi, kach ani hoveh imcha, however you are with me, that is how I am with you. Nefesh HaChaim brings down here from the sifrei kabbalah and other sefarim and from the Ramban himself as well that the Midrash says “Hashem tzilcha”.  Hashem is your shadow.  Hashem is a mirror.  How ever you are towards Hashem that’s how He is with you. Hashem acts middah k’neged middah.

If you turn towards Him, like the Chovos HaLevavos says, then Hashem will help you, but if you turn away from Him, “V’chol haboteiach b’zulas Elokim”, if you turn away and try to rely on something outside of Hashem, then, as a result of your actions: “meisir Hashem hashgachaso mei’alav u’meiniach oso b’yad mi shebatach alav.” Those are the Famous words of the Chovos HaLevavos in Shaar HaBitachon. So powerful. If you rely on something outside of Hashem, then Hashem says: Okay, good luck. Let that thing take care of you. Hashem puts you in the hands of that person. So, we always want to reflect Hashem by turning towards Hashem, and looking at Hashem. That’s what “Ekyeh asher Ekyeh” means. The way that you are to Me. that’s how I am to you.

9) The First Two Osos Were For Moshe

Hashem tells Moshe, “Throw the mateh to the floor” (Shemos 4:3). Ramban explains that Moshe himself needed to have a chizuk in his Emunah to see that the Rebono Shel Olam is running the world, even though he was Navi and Hashem was talking to him. Therefore, Hashem gave the first two osos for Moshe that when you see the mateh and you see the tzaraas. That’s where Moshe started to recognize Hashem, and be fully cognitive that Hashem was there. He didn’t need the third os of the mayim turning to blood; that was for the nation.  

We see that a person always needs to be mischazeik, even if you’re a navi and even if you’re Moshe Rabbeinu, a person always needs to be mischazeik his emunah in the Rebono Shel Olam, and see that Hashem is running the world, and always look out for ways to see Hashem.

10) Why Didn’t Hashem Remove Moshe’s Speech Impediment?

Moshe says, “Lo ish devarim anochi, gam tmol, gam shilshom, gam mei’az dabeircha el avadecha.” (Shemos 4:10)  How could you send me Hashem; I don’t have a voice to talk?  And, I’m a k’vad peh and a k’vad lashon.  I stutter. Hashem replied: I’m going to send Aharon and he will be your spokesman.

Ramban points out such an interesting concept. Moshe, because he didn’t want to go failed to daven that Hashem should cure him and get rid of his kvad peh. Therefore, Hashem did not get rid of his kvad peh.

It’s true Hashem did remove it whenever Moshe taught Torah, and whenever Moshe was doing a shlichus, he didn’t have it anymore, but he still stuttered in his own personal life.  We see here an important lesson in life.  If we don’t daven to Hashem because of our own biases because we don’t want something, we won’t get something that Hashem may have actually granted had we just asked!

Moshe was so convinced: I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to do this.  He didn’t want to insult Aharon.  Of course, it was l’sheim shamayim.  Rashi brings down that Moshe pushed a little bit too hard, and Hashem pushed back, and Moshe lost the kehunah because he refused to go at first, and we’ll leave that for a different time. Ramban is adding that since Moshe didn’t daven to have his speech impediment removed, he didn’t get it.

After Prayer

“Adam ayin la’avod es ha’adamah.” The Midrash says about Adam, that ‘there was no man to work the land’ means ‘to daven’ and therefore Hashem didn’t bring any rain and didn’t allow the growth of any vegetation. It was only when Adam davened that Hashem finally responded and gave him what he asked for.  Just like Adam only got his wife Chava once he asked for her and said: Hashem, what about me, where is my mate?

Purpose of Prayer

In life we need to turn towards Hashem every day like the Mabit says that davening is not to let Hashem know what you need. He knows every one of our needs; everything we need.  Davening is to remind ourselves that we need Hashem.  And, when we turn towards Hashem that’s when the biggest berachos get showered upon us.

Concluding thoughts

I hope that these thoughts will help us grow in our emunah and bitachon which is one of the main points of the entire sefer of the Ramban, and one of the main themes that he dwells on throughout the entire Shemos, as a foundation of our belief in Hashem. Let’s open our hearts and minds and be inspired by the holy words of the Ramban.


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rav and psychotherapist. Learn more and subscribe at ParshaThemes.com