“Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.’” – Exodus 32:32, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Moses refers to the ‘Book of life’ in which every human being is inscribed on Rosh Hashanah if he was found deserving on the basis of his past record.” – Chizkuni on Exodus 32:32; sefaria.org
After the debacle of the golden calf, Moses pleaded with H’Shem on behalf of B’nei yisrael, saying, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold” (32:31, JPS). In asking of H’Shem to forgive the sin of the people, Moses offers to have his name written out of the Book of Life. This is an unmistakable gesture of mesiras hanefesh (self-sacrifice), that Moshe offers on behalf of B’nei Yisrael. Yet, G-d declines the offer, stating in what appears to be an impromptu decree for the ages: “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record” (Exodus 32:33, JPS).
Nevertheless, the immediate punishment, concerning H’Shem’s intent to destroy this generation, and start over again with Moses had already been averted through Moshe’s prayer. Now, forgiveness does not seem to be sanctioned; rather, a newly mentioned punishment is delayed, “when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins.” (Exodus 33:34, JPS). After this statement, the Torah records that a plague is sent amongst the people. So, the question remains, when will H’Shem make an accounting, thereby bringing them to account for their sins? The question continues to ring, like a bell of proclamation.
“And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me.”
– Exodus 29:1, JPS 1917 Tanach
During Moshe’s forty days on Mount Sinai, the pattern of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was shown to him, complete with all the details necessary to construct a Mishkan on earth, where H’Shem’s Presence – the Shechinah – would dwell. Also, the commandments and details in regard to the Kohein Gadol (High Priest), and the kohein (priests) were given.
Aaron was chosen as the first Kohein Gadol; however, Moshe served unofficially in that position, during the seven-day inauguration, when he brought the offerings. His role was given to him by H’Shem, who said to Moses: “This is the thing [word] that thou shalt do to them [the kohein] to set them apart as kodesh [holy];” i.e., to sanctify them for service to H’Shem.
The verse continues with the offerings, necessary for the inauguration. Also, the commandment is given for the kohein to cleanse themselves in a mikveh. Also mentioned are the garments that Moses will place upon the Kohein Gadol, before anointing him with oil. These garments, referred to previously, are described as “holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and glory” (Exodus 28:2, JPS).
“Let Thy priests [kohanim] be clothed with righteousness” (Psalm 132:9, JPS 1917 Tanach ). Righteousness is likened to clothes, because righteous thought, speech, and acts clothe the soul; they have everlasting value, whereby our righteousness will be rewarded in Olam Haba.
“Speak to the children of Israel, that they take [lakach] for Me an offering [terumah]; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering [terumah].”
– Exodus 25:2, JPS 1917 Tanach
While H’Shem conversed with Moshe on Mount Sinai, He gave him the instructions for the building of the Mishkan. In order for the Mishkan [portable tabernacle in the desert] to be built, first, a collection was necessary. The collection was a freewill offering of the people for H’Shem, for the sake of building a sanctuary, where H’Shem would dwell. Everyone gave according to what their heart inspired them to give.
The Hebrew word, “lakach” is translated as “take;” although, “bring for Me an offering” would seem more linguistically correct. According to many commentators, the Torah is teaching us that when we bring an offering, we are actually taking for ourselves. I.e., the benefits of giving to a G-dly cause, outweigh the cost. We receive much for our efforts, for we have a reciprocal relationship with H’Shem. When we give, we are blessed with abundance.
For example, regarding the tithes, brought during the first Temple period, it is written, “Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the L-RD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency” (Malachi 3:10, JPS).
“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle.”
– Exodus 25:8-9, JPS 1917 Tanach
The Hebrew word, mishkan [tabernacle], literally means “dwelling place.” The Mishkan, or tabernacle was a structure that served as a Mikdash (sanctuary). Within the Mikdash, or sanctuary, the Ark of the Covenant rested within the inner part of the sanctuary, the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies). It was here that H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah rested, between the two golden cherubim [angels] on the cover [kapporet] of the Ark.
From this holy place, surrounded by a Cloud of Glory, H’Shem spoke to Moses. After the Revelation at Mount Sinai, H’Shem’s Presence dwelt within the Sanctuary. Yet, According to Sforno, the Shechinah would have rested upon each and every individual, who was at Sinai, because of the high degree of spiritual elevation present. Only because of the sin of the Golden Calf did the Tabernacle become necessary, wherein the Shechinah dwelt in the Sanctuary.
“And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow.” – Exodus 23:10-11, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Six days thou shalt do thy work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest” – Exodus 23:12
“For a thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” – Psalms 90:4, JPS 1917 Tanach
For six thousand years of history shall pass; then, the sabbatical millenium according to traditional Jewish thought. This understanding is based upon the shemittah cycle as well as the weekly Sabbath, and other commandments mentioned in parashas. The Shemittah year, the seventh year whereof the land lies fallow, follows six years of work on the land, whereof the land is sown with seed, and the produce is gathered (see above, Exodus 23:10-11). The weekly Sabbath is a day of rest, following a six day work week; the seventh day being when G-d rested from creating the world, we are commanded to rest as well.
Thus, a comparison may be drawn, based upon these examples, pointing towards the six thousand years of history that will be followed by a thousand year rest, an era of peace and prosperity. “For a day is like a thousand years, and thousand years is like a day to Elokim G-d.” After the sabbatical millenium, when the natural cycle of seven days is completed, the new heavens and the new earth will appear. “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17, JPS).
“If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” (Exodus 21:2). A remez (hint) to the Messianic Redemption, can be found in the commandment in regard to a Hebrew servant who serves another Hebrew. He is redeemed from bondage at the end of six years; a Hebrew who was a slave in Egypt is not meant to be a perpetual slave again. At the completion of six thousand years of history, the Geulah (Redemption) occurs, bringing a restoration to Israel, & the Malchus Elokim (Kingdom of G-d).
Additionally, another commandment obligates a fellow Hebrew to redeem a brother who had been sold as a servant to a gentile. In this case, he is redeemed by a relative, through a redemption price, given to the gentile. “Any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him” (Leviticus 25:49, JPS 1917 Tanach). The relative who redeems his brother is called the goel. The Hebrew word goel (redeemer), may also be understood as a reference to the Moshiach (Messiah). He is like the goel who is obligated to redeem his Jewish brother from slavery. How much more so is He sent to redeem his Jewish brethren?
“And He said: ‘Certainly I shall be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain.”
– Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
“I promise thee that when thou hast brought them forth from Egypt ye will serve Me upon this mountain — i.e. that ye will receive the Torah upon it.” – Rashi, sefaria.org
When G-d spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, JPS). G-d assured Moshe, despite his own doubts, that he would know that he was chosen as the Redeemer of B’nei Yisrael, when he would “serve G-d on this mountain.” In other words, that B’nei Yisrael “would serve Him at the very spot Moses was standing on at that moment” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org). For this was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [shofar] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16, JPS).
The impressive array of fireworks was more than a celebration of the liberation of a people from slavery. Rashi explains that H’Shem preceded the people, by appearing on Mount Sinai first, even before Moshe went up to receive the commandments. He explains that usually a teacher does not wait for the pupil; however, H’Shem’s august Majesty preceded Him, and His Presence alighted on the mountaintop. “Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18, JPS). “And the L-RD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the L-RD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20, JPS 19 Tanach).
Moshe, who had previously “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon G-d,” when H’Shem appeared to him at the burning bush, must have gained some confidence since that time. Only Moshe was permitted to climb Mount Sinai, to speak with G-d. Furthermore, he was told by H’Shem to “charge the people, lest they break through unto the L-RD to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). For as is written elsewhere, “G-d is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). He is to be approached with awe and respect. “Thou shalt fear the L-RD thy G-d; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave [deveykus]” (Deuteronomy 10:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The Torah given on Mount Sinai is eternal. It was given to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) as a ketubah (a marriage contract) between G-d and Israel. This is why when a synagogue receives a new sefer Torah, it is placed under a chupah (a marriage canopy), and paraded around, while people celebrate. At Sinai, the people entered the covenant with great awe and respect. And, even before receiving the commandments, they said, “na’aseh v’nishmah,” we will do and we will understand. In other words, first we will do, then we will understand; only after performing the commandments, will we begin to fully understand their value, meaning, and intent. This was the commitment that B’nei Yisrael made, in regard to the commandments given by the L-RD our G-d, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2).
“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the L-RD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.”
– Exodus 14:21-22, JPS 1917 Tanach
“If they came into the sea, why does the Torah write: “they came unto dry land?” If they came unto dry land why does the Torah call it “sea?” (Shemot Rabbah 21.10). The verse teaches that the sea was not split for them until they had set foot in it while it was still sea up to the level of the nostrils (to demonstrate their faith). Immediately after they had done this the sea was converted to dry land.
– R’ Bachya on Exodus 14:22, sefaria.org
The midrashimare not always meant to be taken literally, rather to make a point. Perhaps, one inference to be drawn from this particular midrash, concerns the nature of emunah (faith). While the faith required by B’nei Yisrael to enter into the narrow passage created in the midst of the sea is comprehensible, an even greater faith would have been required if they began to enter the water, even before the splitting of the sea.
The nature of faith, is not only an abstract quality of belief, per se, in something that is unseen. True emunah is to actually believe in what one cannot see, beyond speculation, as if it exists in actuality, and has an influence in a person’s life. Therefore, while many people confess a belief in G-d, only in tandem to the day to day challenges, does that belief become more of an actuality.
Belief in G-d is more than an intellectual exercise in speculation, in order to compel us to have a reference point (usually, somewhere in Heaven) to direct our prayers towards in times of need. The nature of faith denotes an interface between a person’s belief system and practice, not as something removed from a person’s life, compartmentalized in a region of the mind, wherein a disconnect exists to that person’s practical existence.
At the Sea of Reeds, the Almighty’s Presence within the pillar of fire, and the pillar of cloud, were manifestations of His actual existence. Additionally, the splitting of the sea served as a sign of His power, not only to the Children of Israel, also to the rest of the world at that time. The existence of G-d, the manifestation of His Presence, and the signs of His interaction in this world are not as easily found in our lives, surroundings, or greater environmental milieu. Instead, emunah (faith) requires a profound degree of awareness.
“The L-RD is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation; this is my G-d, and I will glorify Him; my father’s G-d, and I will exalt Him.”
– Exodus 15:2, JPS 1917 Tanach
The midrash states that even a lowly handmaid saw more at the Sea of Reeds than the prophet Ezekiel saw in his visions (see Ezekiel ch. 1). In other words, she was able to perceive more in regard to H’Shem, because of her actual experience, where G-d’s intervention was clear. The midrash emphasizes the importance of seeing G-d’s direct interaction in our lives; this type of interaction is referred to as hashgacha peratis – G’d’s guidance over the life of every individual on earth, even on a personal level. Once we begin to open our eyes to this truth, then our belief will take root in our soul.
“And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Stretch out thy hand toward the heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.’ And Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days; but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”– Exodus 10:21-23, JPS 1917 Tanach
Or HaChayim explains that, according to certain rabbinic commentators, the darkness that originated in a heavenly place, may be likened to the description, found in psalms, “He made darkness His hiding-place, His pavilion round about Him; darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies” (Psalms 18:12, JPS; Shemot Rabbah 14). This verse conveys the understanding, that, H’Shem, who is surrounded by atmospheric darkness, is hidden within those phenomenon. This may explain why Moshe raised his hand to the sky, instead of raising his staff. “Inasmuch as the darkness was of a supernatural kind, Moses did not consider it appropriate to raise his staff against supernatural phenomena” (Ohr HaVhayim on Exodus 10:23, sefaria.org.
Another view, likens the darkness that encompassed Egypt for three days, to the darkness of purgatory (Or HaChayim on Exodus 10:23; sefaria.org). Or HaChayim comments that both views may be feasible, within the context of the plague’s duration. According to Rashi’s rendering, there were two sets of three day periods of darkness, since each plague always lasted for a week. So, the during the first three days, no person could see another; and, during the second three days, “no one could get up from where he was.” (Incidentally, the seventh day of darkness occurred at the encampment of the Egyptians, who had pursued B’nei Yisrael to the edge of the Sea of Reeds).
How might these considerations be understood, in a manner of rendering some significance to the comments, beyond their face value? If we consider that H’Shem, Who is surrounded by dark clouds, refers as well to our inability to draw close to Him, unless we enter a place of unknowing, wherein we need to let go of our intellectual understanding of Him, we are gaining understanding of the nature of His essence, as well as our relationship to Him. The Egyptians were not able to see beyond the darkness; yet, the Children of Israel, who had light in their dwellings, were also closer to G-d than their neighbors. Moreover, without a connection to G-d, we live in a type of purgatory; as opposed to being aware of the lofty nature of G-d.
“And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant.” – Exodus 6:5
A covenant was made with Abraham, many years before his descendants entered Egypt: “And He said unto Abram: ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:12-13, JPS 1917 Tanach).
H’Shem sent Moshe, whom He spoke to at the burning bush: “‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-8).
For H’Shem heard the cry of His people; he “descended to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:8, Complete Jewish Bible, chabad.org). Such is His love for His children, that he “descended to rescue them.” Even though, He is thought of in Talmudic thought as sitting on His throne in Seventh Heaven, He heard our cries from there.
The Talmud further explains that He can even hear the penitent whisper prayers in the synagogue: for He is not only transcendent; He is also immanent. This explains to some degree how He can be the Master of the Universe, as well as the One who effects miracles to release His people from bondage.
“And the angel of the L-RD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”
Exodus 3:2, JPS 1917 Tanach
While tending to a stray sheep in Midian, Moses encountered the burning lowly thornbush. G-d humbled himself by appearing within the form of the lowly thornbush, as if to say that He understood the suffering of Israel, represented by the thornbush itself. The thornbush was in flames; yet, was not consumed. Symbolically, this phenomenon represented the nisyanos (troubles) that Israel endured, without succombing to destruction.
When Moses began to step closer towards the burning bush to investigate, he was commanded to refrain from doing so, “Do not come closer to here, remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). By removing his shoes, Moses was being shown that at this juncture in his life, he was to fully commit to the mission G-d chose for him without any reservations (R’Hirsh).
Figuratively, it was required of him to recognize where he stood, as a person, in relationship to G-d. He had been born a Hebrew, grew up as an Egyptian in Pharaoh’s palace, and spent at least forty years as a Midianite shepherd. The “holy ground” that he stood upon was the soil of his deepest roots.
When G-d appeared to him within the burning lowly thornbush, there was a sanctity of the present moment, wherein Moshe accepted his role, on H’Shem’s terms, not his own. We too, are called, each and every day to seek the vision of G-d that He intends for us: for “whosoever shall call on the name of the L-RD shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32, JPS 1917 Tanach).
During Jacob’s prophetic review of the tribes, encapsulated in the blessings given to his twelve sons, his expectation is to gain a glimpse of the final redemption. He predicts that “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel” (Genesis 49:16). He foresees that Samson will descend from the tribe of Dan; yet, the victory of Samson is short lived; Samson is given his moment in the history of Israel, raised up to defend Israel against the Philistines. Yet, he is not the redeemer who will appear at the end of the age. Rather, as is written in Pirkei Avot, “every man has his hour.”
Upon realising this, he cries out, “For Your salvation I wait O L-RD” (Genesis 49:18). Targum Yonaton paraphrases, “When Jakob saw Gideon bar Joash and Shimshon bar Manovach, who were established to be deliverers, he said, I expect not the salvation of Gideon, nor look I for the salvation of Shimshon; for their salvation will be the salvation of an hour; but for Thy salvation have I waited, and will look for, O L-rd; for Thy salvation is the salvation of eternity” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 49:18; sefaria.org).
Why would Jacob be concerned about the final redemption, when he prophetically knew of the impending descent of his descendants into the abyss of Egypt, and their subsequent slavery? Shouldn’t his immediate concern have been in regard to the first redeemer, who would bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land? Yet, he himself said, before blessing his children, “‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days” (Genesis 49:1).
His prime concern was not for a limited historical perspective, concerning only the next five hundred years, nor even the next two thousand years. His ultimate concern was for the eternal salvation of Israel, as mentioned (above) in Targum Yonaton. Therefore, his vision spanned from the nation of people that would arise from his seventy member family in Egypt, all the way until the “end of days,” whereof the final deliverance of that nation would be at hand. “For Your salvation I wait, O L-RD” (Genesis 49:18).