Parshas Shemos: Shabbos, A Day of Restoration & Redemption

With the opening of Sefer Shemosברוך שהחיינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה – we learn once again about the Egyptian exile, enslavement, subjugation and bitter lives the Bnei Yisrael lived, suffering at the hands of Pharaoh and Egypt.  The methods of subjugation included propaganda about the Israelite nation, financial oppression, slave labor, and finally, infanticide (Shemos 1:8-16).

After many years of slavery, a baby boy is born, hidden for three months, then sent floating in a little basket amongst the reeds of the Nile River.  The baby, named Moshe by his adopted mother (Shemos 2:1-10), will grow up to become the savior, redeemer and leader of the nation.  After he kills an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew (2:11-12), Moshe runs away to Midyan, where he marries Tzipporah and is a shepherd for the flocks of his father-in-law, Yisro (2:15-22).  One day, as he is shepherding the flocks in the desert, Moshe finds himself at the foot of a mountain (Har Chorev/Har Sinai), where Hashem calls out to him from the burning bush, letting Moshe know that he has been chosen to lead the Israelite slaves to freedom.  After a week at the burning bush, Moshe is forced by Hashem to agree to his mission and Moshe returns to Egypt, where he and Aharon inform the elders that the redemption is about to unfold (3:1-4:31).

However, when they announce to Pharaoh that the G-d of the Hebrews appeared to them, and that the slaves would be journeying into the desert to worship their G-d, Pharaoh is incensed, and promptly increases the slave labor upon the slaves.  From now on, they would have to find their own straw to make bricks, and yet still meet their daily quota of brick production (5:1-12).

In response to the message delivered by Moshe and Aharon, the pasuk tells us that Pharaoh said: תִּכְבַּד הָעֲבֹדָה עַלהָאֲנָשִׁים, וְיַעֲשׂוּבָהּ; וְאַליִשְׁעוּ בְּדִבְרֵישָׁקֶרincrease the labor upon the people, so they may do it (the slave labor), and let them not be persuaded by words of falsehood (5:9).

On these words, the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:18) teaches:

מְלַמֵּד שֶׁהָיוּ בְיָדָם מְגִלּוֹת שֶׁהָיוּ מִשְׁתַּעְשְׁעִין בָּהֶם מִשַּׁבָּת לְשַׁבָּת, לוֹמַר שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא גּוֹאֲלָן, לְפִי שֶׁהָיוּ נָחִין בְּשַׁבָּת, אָמַר לָהֶן פַּרְעֹה, תִּכְבַּד הָעֲבוֹדָה עַל הָאֲנָשִׁים וְיַעֲשׂוּ בָהּ וְאַל יִשְׁעוּ וגו‘, אַל יְהוּ מִשְׁתַּעַשְׁעִין וְאַל יְהוּ נְפִישִׁין בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת

This teaches that they had scrolls in their possession in which they would delight every Shabbos, that said that the Hashem will deliver them. Because they rested on Shabbos.  Pharaoh said to them: ‘Let heavier work be imposed upon the men, and they will labor in it; and let them not be persuaded [yishu] by words of falsehood’, i.e.: let them not delight [mishtaashin], and let them not rest on the Shabbos day.

This is an incredible medrash and very beautiful teaching.  The Sages here teach us that the Bnei Yisrael rested on Shabbos, and they had scrolls from which they would read and take great delight in.  What was written in these scrolls?  The Divine Promise that the redemption, geula, would surely come, for Hashem never forgets His nation.  Even many, many years before Matan Torah the Bnei Yisrael were resting on Shabbos, recognizing its restorative power and inherent holiness.  They were sharing Divrei Torah – written in the scrolls of geula – that strengthened their emunah in the redemption that was to come.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l, teaches, “The Medrash tells us that many Jews in Egypt had scrolls – probably consisting of Bereishis – and every Shabbos, they would read these scrolls.  Every Shabbos, the enslaved Israelites would read from scrolls which foretold that they would be redeemed.  The redemption did not start with Moshe.  The Jewish belief in the promise of redemption was nurtured by their reading of these scrolls.  Even during their servitude, they believed in their ultimate redemption.  These scrolls helped maintain their unique identity – the Israelites always considered themselves as if they had just entered Egypt” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.4 & p.77).

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l offers a unique explanation into this Medrash.  He notes that these scrolls contained Tehilim 92, which begins with the words: מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר, לְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, a psalm, a song for the Shabbos day (92:1).  However, Rav Yaakov notes that beyond the first line of this chapter, the kapitel neither alludes to, nor mentions, the holy day.  Why then does it begin with the mention of Shabbos at all?

Rav Yaakov explains that the author of this kapitel was Moshe Rabbeinu.  The topic of this chapter of Tehillim deals with the age old question of why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?  Even Moshe Rabbeinu himself asked this question (Brachos 7a).  Yet, even though, in this world, this question remains unanswered, in this chapter, Moshe counsels faith.  The seeming injustice is temporary, its reasons are beyond our comprehension, but in time, all will be set to right.

Hence, Rav Yaakov suggests that this chapter of Tehillim, authored by Moshe, was one of the ‘scrolls’ that gladdened the hearts of Israel on those precious Shabbasos of brief respite.  It was for this reason that Moshe entitled it “A Song for the Shabbos day.”  Moshe knew that the Israelites in Egypt, afflicted and oppressed, needed chizuk and bolstering of their faith to persevere in exile.  The people delighted in this message of hope, in the picture he painted of a bright future as Hashem’s chosen nation, and with each Shabbos reading, their faith blossomed anew (Medrash Shemos Rabbah 5:18, Artscroll, Insight A “The Sabbath Scrolls”).

לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ, בַּלֵּילוֹת, to tell in the morning Your kindness, and Your faithfulness in the darkness of night (Tehilim 92:3).  As we journey through the intense darkness of exile today, let us too derive great strength, hope and faith from these timeless words of Tehillim, צַדִּיק כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח כְּאֶרֶז בַּלְּבָנוֹן יִשְׂגֶּהThe righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon (92:13), as we merit to witness the destruction of evil and the immediate redemption of our nation and our Land.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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