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Parshas Shemos - If Plan "A" Doesn't Work, There are Twenty-Five More Letters......or Not  23 Teves 5784

01/05/2024 09:00:29 AM


Several times over the years I have written about ‘hishtadlus’, the effort a person is required to do in this world, not to sit back and wait for miracles. Most people plan things in advance, whether it is travel, a day off, or even notating the daily schedule. Yet there are always individuals who make contingency plans for their contingency plans! The title of this article can be interpreted in many ways, but I am not going to list them all. Rather, I would love to hear from YOU, the reader, how you interpreted it. I am sure the common theme will end up being ‘more or less’ the same, yet we ask,” What is required”?  

There is a great deal of balance that is required between the ‘efforts’ that we apply in life to accomplish our goals versus our Emunah/belief that Hashem runs the world regardless of how much we try. I think there is a direct correlation between the two. Put differently, the more belief a person has, the less effort is needed, and the less Emunah (Faith) a person has, the greater the effort will be needed.  The greatest proof of this truism is seen in the transition of the Jewish people’s fate from slavery to redemption: the fact those that who exited Egypt, becoming the generation of the midbar/desert had the greatest Emunah and bitachon/security in Hashem. It was a situation that created minimal physical effort; practically nothing was required on the part of the generation of the midbar to live in the desert. In contrast, those who lived at the time we entered the Land of Israel, continuing throughout the centuries to today – to all of us living in today’s generation, need to prepare, plan, devise and create ideas.  This is especially true today; we are not on the level of previous generations. We all agree that we need to plan, to contemplate, to think.  What better place to start than at the beginning with the letter ‘A’, the first letter, the most fundamental letter of any alphabet.  

A completely related story, albeit indirect to my main message, was a story I just heard about Rav Nata Greenblatt zt”l, known for his quick wit and sharp sense of humor. In a recently published book about Rav Nata, there is a story about Rav Nachum Lansky, a member of the first class of the Memphis Hebrew Academy, founded by Rav Nata Greenblatt in 1949. Rav Nata Greenblatt, who only a few years earlier was learning and listening to shiurim from the Chazone Ish on Yerushalmi, was the Aleph Beis teacher for the initial kindergarten and first grade of the Memphis Academy and taught Nachum Lansky. Years later Rav Lansky went back to Memphis to show Rabbi Greenblatt a sefer that he wrote on Aleph Beis. Rav Nata immediately responded, ”Didn’t I teach you the Aleph Beis already?” Hebrew letters are so articulate that they give depth of meaning standing alone as well as when linked to other letters to make up words.

In this week’s Parshas Shmos the Torah states in Shmos 2:2 "ותהר האשה ותלד בן, ותרא אותו כי טוב הוא ותצפנהו שלשה ירחים"  “The woman became pregnant and had a son.” She realized how extraordinarily good he [the child] was, and she kept him hidden for three months.” The following is the entire explanation of Rabbeinu Bachya. According to the plain meaning of the text, the words “that he was good” mean that he was a handsome baby. Even if he had been ugly, in the eyes of his mother he would have appeared beautiful, and she would have protected him against all dangers and would have hidden him. This is a psychological fact of life; there was no need for the Torah to tell us that in the eyes of his mother the baby looked “good”. It follows that the Torah wished to inform us of something else. According to Shemos Rabbah 1:20, the word טוב means that Moshe was born without a foreskin. The sages add that seeing the whole house filled with light after Moshe was born, his parents considered this a good omen, i.e. he was “good”. The first time the adjective good was used as a noun was in Bereishis 1:4 when God created light and had satisfied Himself that it was something “good.” The Chochamim also comment that Adam, who had been constructed by God Himself, (rather than through a mother of flesh and blood) also did not have a foreskin. The Avos d’Rebbi Nosson, chapter 2, writes that “Good” therefore is a description of something that does not need improvement.

A kabbalistic approach concentrates on the extra word ‘ הוא’. According to the Midrashim, it would have sufficed for the Torah to write ותרא אותו כי טוב. Why did the Torah bother with the additional word הוא? The word הוא was added as one of the names of God such as we find in Psalms 100:3 הוא עשנו ולו אנחנו “He (God) has made us and we are His.” Or in Yeshayahu 42:8 -אני ה׳ הוא שמי, “I am the Lord, הוא is My name.” The Gemara Menachos 29 stated that God created the world with the letter ה. They meant with the letters,הו: of His name He created the world. The Hebrew letter’ ו’ symbolizes the number 6, the six directions which receive radiations (divine input) from the benevolent Presence of God, שכינה. God’s Presence protects the world from harm; this is why, in Tehillim 121 (which we are now reciting for the protection of Israel and Tzahal daily worldwide), Dovid HaMelech commences with the words, “I raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?” uses the word שומר/guardian, 6 times in the course of this psalm. This was David’s way of alluding to the שכינה, the presence of God. Seeing that the letter א and what it stands for is so crucial to continued existence, it was added to the two letters ‘הו' , forming the word הוא. The Aleph is the first of all the letters. If the Aleph had never been introduced to the world, it would be impossible to say there would be a beis or a gimmel. The Aleph is the reason there are another twenty-one letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In this way, expressing Moshe’s relationship to Hashem, ‘Who’ represents the ultimate significance of א, was shown at the moment he was born. In other words: the two words כי טוב tell us that the house was filled with light at Moshe’s birth, whereas the additional word הוא tells us that this was divine light, light from a celestial source. Yocheved experienced the presence of the שכינה when she saw this light. The word הוא in our verse is also what prompted our sages to explain the word ותראהו, “she saw him,” in verse 6 as a reference to the שכינה. The Torah only needed to write ותפתח ותרא, “she opened, and she saw”. Instead, the Torah wrote ותפתח ותראהו - “she opened, and she saw Him,” i.e. the שכינה. God’s benevolent presence had accompanied Moshe to the reeds. Clearly, this is another proof that the kabbalists arrived at this interpretation through the letters הו which the Torah appended to the word ותרא. If Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, was granted a vision of the שכינה, it is quite natural that Yocheved, the righteous mother of Moses, should be granted no less.

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784