Parshas Shemos: The Truth of All Existence


In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shemos, the shibbud Mitzrayim (Egyptian enslavement) commences with full force.  As was in Nazi Germany, the Hebrews in Egypt are libeled and subjected to slander, harassed with financial oppression, subjugated with forced slave labor, and finally, horrifically tortured with infanticide, as Pharaoh orders that all Hebrew males shall be killed at birth (see Chapter 1:8-22).

The men are forced to do women’s labor, and the women are forced to do men’s labor.  The work is cruel, demeaning, painful and back-breaking.  For over one hundred years, the slavery and oppression continues… Until that fateful day when G-d meets Moshe at the sneh (the burning thorn-bush), or we might say, Moshe meets G-d at the sneh… or they meet each other, so to speak, at the sneh

Having fled the Egyptian metropolis some sixty years earlier (see Ramban to 2:23) Moshe is living a quiet pastoral life in Midyan, with his wife Tzipporah and their budding family.  However, Moshe, from the tribe of Levi, was chosen for far greater pursuits than being a shepherd of sheep for the rest of his life.  He has been chosen to become a shepherd for the nation of G-d. 

And one fateful day, when G-d has heard the groans of the people, has remembered His covenant with the patriarchs, has seen their pain and known how they have been suffering (2:24-25), Moshe is pasturing the flocks of Yisro, his father-in-law.  As he arrives at a certain mountain in the desert, Moshe notices that a thorn bush is burning, yet it is not being consumed. 

Moshe turns to look at this strange sight, and from within the fire in the bush, he hears “Moshe, Moshe!”  הִנֵּנִי – here I am!  Moshe, ever the servant of G-d, responds to the Divine call with alacrity and intent (3:1-4).

Hashem informs Moshe that He is the G-d of his forefathers, that He has seen the affliction of the nation in Egypt, and that He will descend, keviyachol (as if it were possible) to save the people from Egypt and to bring them up to the good land, flowing with milk and honey. 

And Moshe says to Hashem, Behold when I come to the children of Israel, and I say to them, the G-d of your fathers has sent me to you, and they say to me, ‘What is His Name?’ what shall I say to them?

And Hashem replies: א-ה-י-ה אשר א-ה-י-ה, I am that I am (3:13-14).  What is the meaning of this enigmatic Name of Hashem? 

R’ Soloveitchik teaches as follows, “Immediate ontological awareness concedes that there is no reality without G-d.  The metaphysics of the book of redemption (Sefer Shemos) is expressed in the phrase I am that I am.  I necessarily exist, and wherever you find being, you will discern the illumination of My sole existence…

“The relative creature is hewn out of the rock of the Absolute.  There is no reality without reliance Him.  G-d therefore draws after him the creature who yearns for complete existence, who senses the emptiness of his world and the dependence of his concrete being.

“If there is a world, if anything at all is real – and no one who has not been ensnared by vain sophistries has any doubt about this – then there is a G-d Who is the foundation and origin of everything that exists.  If there is a self, if man exists – and this, too, all human beings know with certainty – then there is a living personal G-d Who fills the consciousness of the self.  It is impossible to think, speak, to discuss the reality of the world and the reality of man without living and sensing the source of being: I am that I am

“(There is an) immediate awareness that overcomes man who sees G-d in the innermost essence of the world, as well as in its surroundings” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.31-32).

If the people ask you about Me, Hashem says, tell them of My essence, the Absolute One Truth, the Existence that upholds, contains and is the essence of all other existence: א-ה-י-ה אשר א-ה-י-ה, I am that I am. 

Mrs. Risa Rotman, the widow of R’ Chaim (Howie) Rotman z’l HY”D, who died of the critical injuries sustained in the Har Nof attack (Cheshvan 5777/Nov.2014), powerfully and bravely writes:

“Faith in Hashem is not believing that everything will work out the way we want.  It means getting up every morning and knowing that whatever this day brings is directly from Hashem and He should just lead me.

“This became my greatest tool in the aftermath of Chaim’s death.  Once the shivah ended and my mother-in-law and brother-in-law left, I was suddenly alone with no real structure to my life.  It did not make much sense to go back to my original occupation for a number of reasons.  I was like a little sailboat on an endless ocean.  My whole life had revolved around going to the hospital.  Before I would go to bed at night, I would pack up my purse for the next day and set up my coffee thermos to be ready for the hospital.  These little activities had given me a certain sense of tranquility in a very non-tranquil life.

“Then suddenly – BOOM – I had lost a certain purpose.  I moped deeply for a day or two until I remembered my old mantra.  Nothing is changed, I would tell myself, it is exactly the same as before.  I go where Hashem is leading me.  I get up in the morning and accept this day from Hashem and daven that He should lead me.

“As time marches on, I still need to remind myself of this mantra when I feel lost or unsure of what I should be doing in life.  Clarity slowly dawns on me when I continue to accept that I am exactly where Hashem wants me to be” (Terror and Emunah in Har Nof, Artscroll, p.200-201).

The entire essence of our existence, the entire essence of our self-hood and people-hood, the entire essence of our redemption, which emerges from within the confines of enslavement are encapsulated in the Name א-ה-י-ה אשר א-ה-י-ה, I am that I am.  For without this reality, there is no other reality.

And when we can live by this foundational truism, we will come to the stark and profound realization that If He is, and I exist only because of His existence, then I am exactly – at all times and in all situations – where Hashem wants me to be

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום


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