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Parshas Shemos - These are Our Names!       24 Teves 5781

01/08/2021 09:58:31 AM


This week we begin reading Sefer Shemos.  For the most part, story or history books are filled with names. We know that shmos means names, but the irony is that this week’s parsha is filled with names while at the same time displaying a clear lack of names. The question is why?  

Malcolm Forbes once said, ”Every story has an end, but in life, every end is just a new beginning.” Despite the fact that we concluded the book of Bereishis last Shabbos, the story has not ended. The book of Shmos is just a new beginning, as detected by the prefix ‘vav’ at the very first wordואלה  - meaning ‘and these’, showing a continuation from that which came previously. Presumably, the book of Shmos is not only a continuation but the addition to sefer Bereishis.

The book of Genesis is the story of the Jewish people in utero, while the opening of Shmos is the clear birth of the nation of Israel. Nevertheless, it is the individuals who make up the nation. Each and every Jew, from the rise of our nation in the book of Shmos, is part of an emerging people, both as individuals and at the same time as individuals each of whom together comprise the entire nation. In fact, there is a notion that there are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah, each letter representing a Jew. To me, since every Jew has a connection to the Torah, each of us is commanded to be familiar with it in its entirety. To connect to something, we must know it well; there should be a directive to read the Torah at the beginning, from Bereishis. It is here, only in the book of Shmos, where we find the hint of this mandate to read the Torah.

We find the source of reading the Torah in the Levush Mordechai, written by Reb Mordechai Yaffo. The Levush brings down that the source for our obligation to read the parsha two times and the Targum Onkelus (commentary) once comes from this week’s parsha Shmos. This obligation is commonly known as "שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום" , “two times reading the Torah and one time Targum”. The first two words of this week’s parsha are  "ואלה שמות" “ViEleh shemos,”  ‘and these are the names’ which are the roshei teyvos (acronym that reads out” וחייב אדם להשלים הפרשה שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום"  “Vi’chayav Adam Lihashlim Haparsha Shnayim Mikra Vi’echad Targum”- “… and a person is obligated to complete the portion reading it two times and the Targum once.” The obvious question is, why would this be the source?  What is the simple understanding?  What does shemos have to do with shnayim mikra vi’echad targum?

Rav Yechezkel Weinfeld of Ramat Eshkol in Yerushalayim suggests that the reason is, Shmos is the book of galus (exile) and geulah (redemption).  Up until now, through sefer Bereishis we have been dealing with our forefathers, and there are only three of those in contrast to sefer Shmos which is about the children, and there are too many of those to count.  In a situation where not everyone can be counted and mentioned, some may feel inadequate and unworthy of any special accolade. Therefore, the Torah comes in right now at this juncture to tell us that we- all of us - are important.  As it says, each person must finish “his parsha with the rest of the tzibbur.  In addition, each one of us needs to read the parsha- not once, but twice- and we must translate it into a different language, presumably one that we understand. Why is the Mitzva to read it twice? So that we can sometimes read it differently and realize that there is another or many other ways of reading those letters which represent other Jews who may be different than I am. The context of having and learning a commentary is to understand there must be room for interpretation.

Another important lesson of reading the Torah twice is we must always see that even though our input is important, the Torah must be read twice- the Torah is the base and must be viewed through the lens of the Torah. There are many additions and explanations that we contribute to the understanding of the Torah, but we must realize anything we have to contribute must always be with the realization of the Torah’s primacy, the Torah is the main thing.  Nevertheless, our input is important, but only when we know where and how to frame it. A further reason for reading it twice is accuracy, to make sure we say it properly and ultimately to remember it better, for repetition helps with retention.

More importantly we need to remember we are all reading the same words of the Torah every day and the same Parsha each week. No one person or any particular group owns the Torah. We all could fulfill the Torah, each according to his/her own traditions with proper and adequate halachik guidance. 

Finally,  I wish to take some poetic license with my own drush of the two-time business of the parsha. If one noticed, there are different words used for the letter lamed in the phrase above; some read it as Likros – to read - and other as L’Hashlim – to complete. There are two lessons to be taken from this phrase. With regard to Likros, the first is the two times we read the portion is meant to be one time for the way each of us sees the Torah and the second time how each of us reads the Torahmay be through the eyes of another reader, namely my fellow Jew. Although he may pronounce the words with a different dialect, accent, or emphasis, I need to accept that Jew just as equally as the person who read it the first time, namely us.   Additionally, the word ‘LHashlim’ - to complete - is a direct message to each and every one of us. We are all put on this earth to accomplish a mission and we need to complete it before we leave. To complete the Parsha isn’t necessarily the portion of the week, it is also the parsha that is our life.  The word Parsha is defined as a section or piece, whereby we may be in a certain ‘parsha’ of life. We all must read our life script and fulfill it until we have completed it.

Each and everyone of us should have the ability to not only read but to understand the Torah; we individually and collectively represent all Jews. Hopefully, as we all read the parsha individually and collectively, we will complete our unique, individual missions that carry us through to the Geulah Shelaima collectively as a whole Bais Yaakov, the House of Jacob!

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782