Thursday, January 27, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Mishpatim – Sh’mot (Exodus): 21- 24

"This Parasha is extraordinarily rich in a variety of themes, and multiplicity of laws, judgments, and statutes governing every facet of human existence. This comprehensive legislation covers relations of man to their society, between members of the same community, between peoples, between man and man, man and his enemy, and even between man and the flora and fauna of his environment, not to mention the relationship with man to his Creator. The Torah therein regulates the life of the Hebrew person at work and at leisure, on Shabbat and festivals".[1] We will examine some of Parashat Mishpatim’s terms against the backdrop of this summary. Last week we noted that the Ten Words were presented in a progression, from the overriding theme of the relationship to the Creator, gradually breaking down into particulars (in human relationships, and finally to one’s own heart). This week the trend seems to go the other way. Thus, before the ‘national’ commandments regarding the times and seasons (in the land) – 23:10-19 - and the ‘big picture’ as described in 23:20-33, the people of Yisrael are presented with very detailed and specific instructions as to what is expected of a set-apart nation, even down to the individual.

 

"And these are the judgments which you shall put before them…" are the opening words of our Parasha.  The singular form of “mishpatim” (“judgments”) is “mishpat”, the root letters being sh.p/f.t (shin, pey, tet). Last week we noted that YHVH's instructions to His People were not to be defined simplistically as a set of rules of 'do's' and 'don'ts.'  “Mishpat” may be compared to last week's “chock” -  "law" - which is also to “engrave", and to “pikudim” - "precepts" (a glimpse of which we had in Parashat Shmot,  in 3:16, where it appeared as the verb to “visit"). Likewise, “mishpat” also has a variety of meanings such as "just" (Deut. 32:4), and "justice" (Is. 16:5). In this Parasha “mishpat” is used several times as "arbitration" and "decision making" (21:31), as well as "legal right" (23:6) and "custom" (21:9). According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, this “word [which is] of broad meaning, is also to be understood as to “govern or rule". [2] Thus, although some of the “mishpatim” could be termed as "judgments" or “ordinances” in the stricter sense of the word, this judicial term is couched in a much larger social and spiritual framework, a framework that is rooted in YHVH's Torah, the latter (as already pointed out), being anything but a strictly official and legal codex.

 

Let us go back to our opening verse:  "And these are the judgments which you shall put before them".  Notice that Moshe is told to “put" or "place" the judgments before the Israelites. "Put", as used here, appears to be almost out of place, unless it is tied to some image such as we encounter in Ya’acov (James) 1:22-25: “…Become doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  Because if anyone is a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, this one is like a man studying his natural face in a mirror; for he studied himself and has gone away, and immediately he forgot of what kind he was. But the one looking into the perfect Torah of liberty, and continuing in it, this one not having become a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in his doing” (italics added).

 

Thus, the Torah, which is to reflect the new nature of the “am s'gula” (the “treasured People” as mentioned in last week’s Parashat Yitro), is likened to a mirror. "Placing the mishpatim before the people" becomes clear, therefore, especially when considering the Israelites' response last week: "All which YHVH has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8) and this week too (ref. 24:3). Incidentally, the same verb, put (“sim”) is also used in Bamidbar (Numbers) 6:27, regarding the placing of the Priestly Blessing upon the Children of Yisrael (as well as in 6:26, where YHVH is said to “put” or “place” His peace on the recipients of this blessing).

 

These “mishpatim”, therefore, constitute one of the aspects reflecting and revealing the ‘new nature’ (and also ‘flesh’ and sin) of YHVH's special and holy people (ref. 22:31), which they see each time they look "into the perfect Torah of liberty". And what is it that they first see there? "When you buy a Hebrew slave  (“eved” – “one who works”), he shall serve six years, and in the seventh, he shall go out free for nothing" (21:2). What could be more appropriate for the newly released slaves than to act with consideration and kindness toward their own brethren who have met with this predicament? Is it any wonder then that, this is the first ruling they encounter as they look into the “mirror” which has been “placed before” them? Various dimensions of this topic are dealt with all the way through to 21:11. A variety of regulations ensue, mostly dealing with acts of violence, followed next by rules regarding damages caused specifically by one's livestock (chiefly oxen) to others.

 

Reparations for these damages proceed (chapter 22:1-17), leading to various moral and ethical issues, as well as to the treatment of the defenseless. But before we get to this point, let’s examine verses 5 and 6. The translation reads as follows: "If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man's field... If a fire breaks out and catches in thorns, so that stacked grain, standing grain, or the field is consumed, he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution” (emphases added). Notice the words: causing (a field) to be grazed, animal, feeds, he who kindles fire. In Hebrew, all these verbs and nouns stem from a single root, b.ae.r (bet, ayin, resh) with its primary meaning being “to consume, burn, destroy”. But as is illustrated in our text, this term is ‘stretched’ further to include grazing (in a sense of “removal”) and even animals, from which it morphs into “brutishness”.  The latter meaning is then applied to the “fools” and ones “without sense” or “knowledge” (e.g., Ps. 94:6a; Pro. 12:1; Jer. 10:21a, being just a few examples). “Removal” (mostly of evil) is another usage of this term (e.g., Deut. 17:12; 19:13). This is a typical illustration of associative Hebraic thinking. Let us now return to the “treatment of the defenseless”. In 22:21 we read: "You shall not torment an alien. You shall not oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt". The word here for "alien" is “ger”, from the root “gur” (g.u.r, gimmel, vav, resh), to “live, reside, dwell, or sojourn”. According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, "this root means to live among people who are not blood relatives… thus, the ‘ger’ was dependent on the hospitality that played an important role in the ancient Near East”. [2] Interestingly, the verb “gur” also means “dread, fear”. This illustrates the fact that being a stranger meant vulnerability, therefore requiring protection by the local inhabitants. Moreover, if the many repeated lessons of sojourning will not have been sufficiently learned, the Israelites may find themselves aliens all over again (e.g., Deut. 28: 63ff.), as YHVH would judge them for unrighteousness as He did the Egyptians, and even more strictly, because of the higher standards expected from them. Some examples of the way this word is used are as follows:

 

· Avraham sojourned in Egypt during the famine in the Land of Yisrael (Gen. 12:10).

· Lot was scornfully called a sojourner by the people of Sdom (ref. Gen. 19:9).

· Ya'acov described his stay with Lavan as that of a sojourner (ref. Gen. 32:4).

· Ya’acov’s sons defined their status in Egypt as that of sojourners (ref. Gen. 47:4).

· Hebrews 11:9,13 characterizes the Patriarchs as those who considered themselves pilgrims and aliens (not regarding themselves as members of this sin-ridden world).

· The Elohim of Yisrael is termed this way, when not welcome among His people (ref. Jer. 14:8).

· Finally, in the age to come the wolf will be the "protected citizen" of the lamb (Is. 11:6). [3]

 

The Torah’s cautions regarding all behavior towards the ‘stranger’ number no less than 36; more times than it deals with any other command![4] This fact powerfully speaks for itself. In 22:21 Yisrael is told to not “wrong or oppress“ the stranger, with the latter verb being “lo’chetz” (l.ch.tz. lamed, chet tzadi) - literally “to restrict, squeeze”. YHVH used this very term when He was responding to Yisrael’s cry in Egypt: “I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them” (Ex. 3:9 italics added). This kind of repetition puts Yisrael ‘on the spot’ as to their treatment of the alien/stranger.  A similar theme is reiterated in 23:9, with the addition, “…you know [understand] the soul of an alien since you were aliens in the land of Egypt". The Israelites are most emphatically expected to empathize with the alien, having once been in that humbling station themselves. Remembering at all times that they have “come out of Egypt” leaves the people without an excuse as to forget the conditions of the less fortunate and for lording it over them!  

 

Our text continues in verses 22:22-24 as follows: "You shall not afflict an orphan or a widow.  If you afflict him, if he at all cries to Me, I will surely hear his cry, and My anger shall glow, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows, and your sons orphans". Once again, we turn in the Brit Chadasha (New Testament) to the Epistle of Ya'acov (James), where we read, “Pure and undefiled religion before Elohim and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions" (1:27). In the same vein, Sh’mot 23:3 and 6 read, respectively, "And you shall not favor the lowlydah’l - in his lawsuit" and, "You shall not pervert the judgment of your needy one – “evyon” in his lawsuit". And although “favor” and “pervert” are certainly not synonymous, according to the commentator Cassuto the way these two verbs are presented here makes for the similarity between the two ideas. He, therefore, tried to reconcile these two passages, which he deemed to be redundant if not explained in some other way. Hence Cassuto attaches to “ev'yon” (here) a meaning other than "needy", and connects it to the word “oyev” - “enemy” - thus making this a prohibition corresponding to the two preceding admonitions (23:4-5), that is, to mete out justice to the enemy. [5] Nevertheless, it does make perfect sense that YHVH would forbid favoring the needy in judgment, as a lowly social status, obviously, does not necessarily equal righteousness. At the same time, perverting the needy’s case in court is also a very severe violation of YHVH’s righteousness. Reflecting on the case of the stranger, widow, and orphan (22:21-23), the prohibition to mistreat them is stated in the second person singular, but the consequences are to befall on the nation as a whole, as verse 23 is written in second person plural, and says the following: "And My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword, your wives shall be widow, and your children fatherless".

 

YHVH’s expectation from the redeemed community’s attitudes is also illustrated in another way. In 22:25 we read: "If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest”. The preposition “if” (that the Torah presents here, rather than “when”), intrigued the Jewish commentators, since in their opinion there was no question that lending to the needy was a definite command. They resolved this by stating that if one does something compulsorily, it is not necessarily done as graciously as when doing it out of one’s own free will. Thus, YHVH expects His people to act as if given an option; that is from a heart that is generous and has elected to act, even if in reality there is no choice in the matter. Put differently, we are to delight in obedience and generosity.

 

Let us return now to 22:26-27 briefly, there to find included in the ordinance a reasoned appeal: "If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious” (italics added). This “neighbor” is possibly so poor that his cloak serves him as “his covering” – a sheet – “cloak for his body” – sleeping garment, and “for sleeping in” – it is his very mattress. YHVH is concerned with every detail, “for I am gracious”, and expects as much from His own.  

 

Verse 29 in our chapter (22) is unique in its (Hebrew) vocabulary. It is generally translated: “You shall not delay [to offer] the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me”. But “the first of your ripe produce and your juices”, are rendered, literally, in Hebrew as: “your fullness – “m’le’at’cha” - and your tear/drop – “dim’a’cha”. Before we go any further, let us note that the “fullness” is in reference to the first fruit, while the “tear” connects to the free will offering. Interestingly, within “demah” or “dim’ah” is included the word for blood, “dam”. This gives an added meaning to Luke 22:44, where we read about Yeshua’s sweat that was like “drops of blood”. But what about the “fullness”? John 19:29 mentions the “full” jar of vinegar into which a sponge was dipped and held up to Yeshua’s thirsting lips. In the second part of verse 29 (in our chapter) YHVH continues, saying in the same breath with the “fullness” and “tear/blood” concept: “the firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me”. As we know, bloody sweat and the fullness of the cup of sorrows were both experienced by YHVH’s Firstborn, whom He gave “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  If indeed the "tear" or "blood" offering is one of "free will", it is totally commensurate with Yeshua's attitude, as expressed by Him in the following words:  "I lay down my life… no one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" (John 10:17,18).

 

"And you shall sow your land six years, and you shall gather its produce. And the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow" (23:10). After the seventh-year release of the slaves (referred to above), we encounter again a ‘seventh-year’ principle, this time regarding the land. "Let it rest and lie fallow" is designated by two verbs, “shamot” (sh.m.t. shin, mem, tet), and “natosh” (n.t.sh. noon, tet, shin); the first meaning to “let go", and the other to “forsake". This "letting go" and "forsaking" of the land and its husbandry is designed so that "the needy of your people shall eat. [Whatever] they leave behind, the animals of the field shall eat. So, you shall do to your vineyard, and to your olive grove" (v. 11). A similar theme is seen in the following verse, which speaks of seven days of labor, and of a seventh day in which "you shall rest, so that your ox and your ass may rest, and the son of your slave-girl and your alien may be refreshed". It is significant that the care of the poor, slaves and livestock is related to "resting" and "letting go", all of which point to trust, faith, and reliance on YHVH, while also having His heart of care and compassion toward the less fortunate. Similarly, we read in T’hilim (Psalms) 46:10 (literal translation): “Let go and know that I am Elohim”.

 

Coming next in chapter 23, are commands to "do good to those who hate you" (see Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27), by taking care of their animals and livestock, if they are either lost or have met mishap (vs. 4-5). In verses 14-17 reference tis made to the calendar, and its feasts (or rather, “pilgrimages” – “regalim”). But whereas the month of Aviv, mentioned in verse 15, is to be the first of months (ref. Sh’mot 12:2), speaking of the “Feast of Ingathering”, in verse 16, as being at the “end of the year” appears to be problematic. Hence let us take a close look at the words used in verse 16. In Hebrew the “end of the year” is rendered “tzet ha’shana” – literally, the “going out of the year”. However, can this term “tzet” have a different meaning? In D’varim 14:22 there is mention of “the grain that the field produces year by year”. In Hebrew it says, "the produce of your seed that comes out – yotzeh - year by year”. Thus, the verb yotzeh – comes out – in its noun form - “tzet” - may be understood as the “produce” of a given year. Going back to our verse, 23, we may read, therefore: “The Feast of Ingathering at [the time of] the year’s produce…” Verse 18 deals with the blood and the fat of the sacrifices, and their proper handling. Some of the translations read: “nor shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until morning” for the second part of the verse (italics added). The Hebrew word used there for “sacrifice” is “chag, which literally means feast with the idea of circularity embedded in it (both in terms of the repetition or reoccurrence of the feast, and may also refer to the actual physical marching and/or procession connected with it. See Is. 40:22).

 

In 23:19 (v. 18 in Hebrew) we encounter 10 words (5 in Hebrew) upon which rest most of the elaborate Jewish dietary laws: "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk". It follows, "You shall bring the first of the fruit of your soil to the house of YHVH your Elohim". The word used for "boil" (“bashel” - b.sh.l, bet, shin, lamed) or "cook" also means "ripe" (e.g. Joel 3:13). Could this be a reminder, therefore, not to let the kid become too mature before offering it up to YHVH, especially if the context of the entire verse is taken into consideration, along with 22:30 (where mention is made of bringing to YHVH the firstlings of the sheep on the eighth day)?

 

According to the above-examination of the term “mishpatim”, translated as “judgments”, it is not to be defined strictly by the letter of the law but more broadly as YHVH’s just arbitrations, which are to become standard and customary within the redeemed community of Yisrael (the italicized terms are all rendered “mishpat” or “mishpatim” in Hebrew). As a provision for making this lifestyle feasible, we read: “Behold, I send an Angel/Messenger before you, to keep you on the way and to bring you to a place which I have prepared” (Ex. 23:20 ff). Thus, protection is already provided, and the destination has also been prepared. “If you obey his voice and do as I say…” tells us that the Messenger’s voice and YHVH’s are synonymous. “And I will be an enemy to your enemies and I will be an adversary to your adversaries”. In the Hebrew “I will be an enemy”-  ve’a’ya’vti (le’oy’vecha”- “to your enemies”) appears here in verb form (to be found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible), as it does too with “I will be an adversary” - “ve’tza’rarti (le’tza’re’cha” –  “to your adversaries”, v. 22). The usage of the verb form (and especially in the case where a verb is literally made up for the purpose of conveying this idea) underscores YHVH’s total identity with His People. It illustrates more vividly His active participation in their experiences. The presence of the Angel/Messenger, in whom abides YHVH’s name, in their midst adds to the closeness that YHVH is establishing with His people. More evidence to the direct presence of Elohim in issues pertaining to the everyday life of the people is the usage of the word Elohim (in Hebrew) in 21:6 (and in 22:7&8) when referring to the judges, who are to be His direct representatives. YHVH's sovereignty is also emphasized in 12-13, where it says about an unintentional killing that Elohim is the one who had delivered the unfortunate victim into the hand of the one who struck him

 

Leaving YHVH’s Messenger and the 'inclusion' of His presence in all aspects of the life of the Hebrews, we now continue on and climb new heights, but not before the act of sprinkling the atonement blood (24:6), in the course of which the “young men of Israel” offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings (v. 5), while the seventy elders, “went up… and saw the Elohim of Israel… and did eat and drink” (24:9,10,11). In this way the covenant is seen to encompass the people as a whole; from the young men at the foot of the mountain (the foundations); to the elders at the top and in close proximity to YHVH, with the sprinkling of the atonement blood being at the heart of the event and literally over the ‘body’ of the nation. The twelve pillars and the altar, in 24:4, provide a graphic and physical illustration, again, of the total inclusion of every member of the household of Yisrael. In addition, in Hebrew the word for “pillars” is actually conveyed here in singular form, thus adding a unifying factor to the all-inclusive nature of the covenant and oneness of the people. The scene climaxes with Moshe being called up to YHVH on the seventh day of this season, during which YHVH’s glory appeared on the Mountain: “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of YHVH was like a consuming fire on the mountain top” (24:17).  

 

YHVH summoned Moshe to come up to the Mountain, where he was to stay for forty days, as he was about to give “the tablets of stone, and the Torah and the commandment which [YHVH] has written to teach them" (24:12). The word for "teach them" is “(le)horotam”, of the root y.r.h (yod, resh, hey) - meaning to “shoot" or to “fling" and by implication to “teach" and forms the root of “Torah” (as mentioned last week).  This one verse makes quite clear the connection of Torah to "teaching".  Here we see again, as we observed in the beginning that, "the Torah is anything but a strictly official and legal codex”. On his way up the mountain with his assistant Yehoshua, Moshe tells the elder: "Wait here for us until we come back to you" (24:14), echoing words spoken many years hence when Abraham went up the mountain with his son and charged his young men: "Stay here… the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you" (Gen. 22:6). These words create a linkage between Mount Moriah and Mount Sinai.

  

 

[1] New Studies in Shmot Part 2, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

[2] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris,    Moody  Press, Chicago, 1980.

[3] Ibid.

[4] New Studies

[5] Ibid.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Whose Mind?

 Whose Mind?                                                                       20/01/2022

Not surprisingly, a great deal of attention is given lately to the four beasts mentioned in the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:3-7), and to the seven-headed mystery beast of Revelation (13:1-2).  These 'critters' certainly have a lot in common, and in addition, also make for an apt description of the world as it is today. And as mentioned in last week’s letter about the days of Noah, if our eyes are open, we will see plainly that a pre-flood-like period is also alive and well at present.

This, however, is not the topic of this letter.  For two thousand years the Kahal/ Ecclesia (church) of Yeshua, that is, the redeemed of YHVH, have been living in, or alongside, the kingdom of man's devised systems, made up of nations and their governments and leaders (religious or political).  Because the “Body of Messiah” is to be in this world but not of it, the apostle has some very sobering messages to the seven “churches” (Rev. 2,3).  Obviously, there are not seven different bodies of Messiah, but one; made up of many members. Thus, in reading what the Spirit is saying to each one, there is an all-conclusive message for all, if we have an ear to hear and a heart to understand.

Some contend that we are living today in a period that is not unlike that of the church of Laodicea (the seventh and last mentioned, Rev. 3:14-22).  One can certainly make a good case for this point, as the latter was a very wealthy and lukewarm body of believers.  Yet the very last words of Yeshua, to each of these respective congregations, are identical: "he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The plural ending seems to indicate that He wants every member of His body to “have an ear to hear” what He is saying to all the seven groupings of the said Ecclesia.  We are to have one mind, as both Paul and Peter exhort us in their letters. 

“Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the Elohim of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 emphasis added).  " stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel… fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (Philippians 1:27; 2:2 emphases added).  “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:8 emphasis added).   

These words of exhortation to be of “one mind” become even more important as we draw closer to the days of the seventh angel, with the seven bowls of YHVH’s judgments (Rev. 17:1). In chapter 17 reference is made to those whose names are not written in “the Book of Life” (v. 8). These are the ones, who along with their rulers (kings), are one mind with the harlot who sits on the back of the beast with the seven heads, which are seven mountains (Rev. 17:3, 9): “These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast… “For Elohim has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of Elohim are fulfilled” (Rev. 17:13,17 emphases added). 

YHVH has allowed humanity to worship itself (i.e., the flesh, with its bestial nature) in order to fulfill the above scripture. Transhumanism has answered the call to merge the computer brain with the human one, in order to make it possible for mankind to have one mind. Satan’s (dragon) ultimate intention, from before the days of Eden, was to become like Elohim, thus turning man (male and female) into the image of himself through the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

We can see the evidence today, as the mind of humanity has been twisted, snarled, confused, and muddled into calling good evil and evil good.  This inability to discern the difference means that the conscience has been snuffed out and has been replaced by “lawlessness”.  Only divine intervention can change the direction that this world is heading toward.   This is why we, His redeemed people, must be of one mind, that is “the mind of the Messiah” (1 Corinthians 2:16), and have “an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying” today more than ever before. Having "one mind" is not an option anymore – but whose mind will that be, that of Messiah or the adversary?

“Now may the Elohim of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Messiah Yeshua, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the Elohim and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (Romans 15:5-6).   

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Yitro - Exodus 18:1 - 20:26

 This week we arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai to participate in a glorious and “epiphanic” scene of colossal scope, but not before attending to some personal and administrative matters. The touching and even intimate episode of Moshe's meeting with his father in law, Yitro (Jethro), eventually evolves into a strategic plan proffered by the latter (18:13-26).  However, to begin with, Yitro’s purpose for coming to his son in law was for another reason altogether, as is evidenced in 18:2-6. Yitro did not come alone. He brought with him his daughter, Tzipora and her two sons, “after he [Moses] had sent her back”. Apparently, before Moshe could embark on the great task ahead of him, he had to take care of the wellbeing of his own family, because a nation, a people, especially a unique one such as Yisrael, is dependent on the soundness of its components, the families (see 1st Timothy 3:2-5).  Rather than be rid of his family, in order to be able to devote himself wholly to his duties, Moshe had to do quite the opposite.  After attending to these family matters, Yisrael’s leader was free to receive some instructions from his father in law in order to improve his organizational skills prior to the revelation of YHVH and His Torah. (Compare this interaction with Yitro with Bamidbar – Numbers – 10:29-32, where Moshe makes a significant request from Chovav, the son of Re’u’el-Yitro.)*

 

Moshe tells Yitro that he has been busy “making known the statutes of Elohim and His laws” to the people (18:16). These "statues and laws" are "chukot and torot" (plural of "chok" and "torah"). This is not the first time that these legal terms are used before the official 'giving of the Torah'. Their usage, as seen here, as well as in B’resheet (Gen.) 26:5 and in Sh’mot (Ex.) 16:4, may help lend these terms a more comprehensive meaning. Thus, instead of being perceived strictly as a set of rules of 'do's' and 'don'ts,’ YHVH's instructions to His People may be viewed as just that… instructions for life, for an abundant life. "Chok" - "law" - is from the root ch.k.k (chet, kof, kof), meaning "to engrave or imprint" (and by implication "to decree, inscribe and enact"). With this understanding, the "law" may be viewed as an "imprint", rather than only an imposition from without. YHVH desires to impress upon the hearts of His people His way of life and His character (with the "renewed covenant" being the final seal of that objective. See Jer. 31:33). At the same time, the act of inscribing is mutual. It is not only YHVH who is embossing His imprint upon those who belong to Him, for He says: “I have inscribed you (“cha'ko'tich”, using the same root of ch.k.k) on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16 italics added). The root of Torah is y.r.h (yod, resh, hey) and means to “shoot”, as in “hitting the mark”.  Since “sin” – chet – means “missing the mark”, the “Torah” is to help us all become 'sharpshooters'.

While instructing Moshe, Yitro uses, in 18:20,21, two interesting verbs which are translated, respectively, “teach” (v. 20) and “select” (v. 21). However, “vehiz’harta” (the first of those, i.e. “teach”) originates from the root z.h.r. (zayin, hey, resh) which means “radiate” (for more examples on the usage of this word see Ps. 19:11; Dan. 12:13). Thus, Moshe is told to cast light upon, or illumine the “chukim” and “torot”. His teaching, therefore, must originate with the Source of Light – the “Elohim [who] is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). But with that said, the root z.h.r also conceals a warning (see Ezekiel 3:1, where it is used as “warning”), especially toward those who have been privileged to have the light shining around them.

While the light is thus being “cast” Moshe cannot merely “choose” or “select”, as your translation would have it, but is told to “see far ahead" and "envision the unseen - te’che’zeh” (root ch.z.hey – chet, zayin, hey, e.g. Ps. 58:10, and in next week’s Parasah in Ex. 24:11 etc.), as the original text states. A seer is called “chozeh” (ref.1 Sam. 9:9).

 

With some practice in Godly nationhood now accomplished, “the House of Jacob" and the "Sons of Israel” (ref. 19:3) appear to be in a slightly better position to hear directly from YHVH. Shlomo Ostrovski1 delineates these two, seemingly synonymous terms that are used here for the Nation, with the "House of Ya'acov" being the title for the “natural” entity with its “natural” free will, in contradistinction to the "spiritual entity" – that is the "Sons of Yisrael" – who are to volitionally will and make choices on the spiritual level. The next verse continues: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself” (19:4 italics added). This kind of imagery demonstrates the tenderness of a parent, as well as that of a husband, who, in Biblical terminology "brings" his bride to himself (e.g. Gen. 24:67). If we think of the episode of the Sinai Covenant as a betrothal, the above verb is very appropriate. According to Nehama Leibowitz, this verse (4) describes "the road from Egypt to Sinai [and] represents a momentous spiritual and physical transition".2 

 

The message Moshe is to convey to the People continues: “Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (19:5 notice the emphasis “if”). This "special treasure" is "s'gula", and means "personal property", as Psalm 135:4 affirms: “For YHVH has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure [s'gulato]” (italics added). (Notice the Psalm’s parallel usage of “Jacob” and “Israel”, just as in 19:3 above.) But ultimately being YHVH’s special treasure was going to benefit the entire body of humanity, as Yeshua’s parable in Matthew 13:44-46 illustrates. As in that narrative, an entire field was purchased in order to obtain the treasure which was buried therein.   

 

At this juncture, Yisrael is seemingly being fast transformed into a well-administered group of people, but above that “Israel is chosen to reflect God's holiness and live out his commandments, reflecting His standards in a life of wholehearted compliance with the terms of the covenant”.3 With this in mind, YHVH further defines His people: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:6). Thus, Yisrael will be equipped and prepared for this (ultimate) ideal goal of reflecting Elohim’s image by becoming a holy covenant community of priests who are to minister to a royal Sovereign.  "Holiness", is a totally new concept for the fledgling Nation, hence the cleansing and separating measures that are imposed on them. If noted in list form, the people are to: "consecrate", by "washing clothes", "setting bounds”, “being careful not to go up to the mountain”, nor “touch its base" and "not to come near [their] wives" (19:10, 12, 15). Being an “am s'gula” they are not only YHVH's possession but, as mentioned, also a reflection of their Owner, marked by a distinction of status and nature. "Kadosh" - “holy” - primarily denotes separation and devotion to the service of YHVH. In the quick transition that they are making, the acts of “consecration” serve as an external illustration of what has hitherto been a completely strange notion. Likewise, the loftiness, holiness, and sublime stature of YHVH will be expressed in an outward fashion, as we shall soon see.

 

As part of YHVH's instructions, which precede His descent from the Mountain, He says to Moshe “When the shofar sounds long, they shall come near the mountain” (19:13b), and (literally), “when the yovel is drawn out…" (referring to a prolonged sound of the shofar, which is mentioned for the very first time in Scripture, 19:16,19). The current reference is to the type of sound, and not to the instrument producing that sound (in fact, nothing is being said right then about any instrument that would have produced the sound). The root of yovel (y.v.l - yod, bet/vet, lamed) means to “lead” (e.g. Jer. 31:9 – “And with supplications, I will lead them”), as it was undoubtedly the ram that typically supplied the horn for blowing, and was used to lead the ceremonial procession. Blowing the horn (shofar) also became the signal for the year of “Jubilee” - hence “yovel” for the 50th year. The English word ‘Jubilee’ is, therefore, a derivative of the Hebrew “yovel”. The usage of the “yovel” in this context may also allude to Yisrael’s “year of release” from their bondage, and into the “liberty of the sons of Elohim” (see Rom. 8:21).

 

The greatest sound and light spectacle are about to unfold with the following ‘pyrotechnical effects’: Thundering and lightning, a thick cloud, loud sound of a shofar, smoke (which envelops the mountain), and fire. The smoke is like the smoke of a furnace; the mountain is found quaking greatly, with the long blast of the shofar - becoming louder and louder (ref. 19:16-19, cf. Revelation 8:1-9:3; 10:7).

 

The first part of chapter 20 (1-17) is devoted to the Decalogue, the ‘Ten Commandments', or literally the d'varim – “words”, of the root d.v.r (which we have previously discussed as being the root for “desert, plague, to drive, thing, flock, holy of holies” and more). It is YHVH’s voice, which utters these “d’varim” - “words”. (Incidentally, in the text itself the number ‘ten’ is not mentioned in connection with these declarations of YHVH.) The seventeen verses of these “d'varim” constitute for the Israelites the foundation, or basis, of their Covenant relationship with Elohim and with one another, helping to become “am sgula”.  Notice that even though at that time the Levitical priesthood had not yet come into being, mention is made of priests in 19:22. Some of the sages, as well as Rashi (the renowned Middle-Ages commentator), attribute this position to the firstborn, presumably because the latter belonged to YHVH (ref. Parashat Bo, Ex. 13:2). The existence of this early priesthood is a precursor pointing to a future reality (of a "nation of priests") yet to be fulfilled (even beyond the era of the ministry of the Levitical priesthood).

 

The first seven verses of Chapter 20 deal specifically with Yisrael's relationship to YHVH. The text opens up (v. 2) with "I am" – “anochi” (and not “ani”, which is a simpler form of "I am"), denoting YHVH's inextricable link to His People, their circumstances ("who brought you out of Egypt"), and destiny.  “You shall have no other gods over my face” (v. 3, literal translation, italics added), is next. The word "face" utilized in this way refers to direct defiance and spite, implying, according to the Mekhilta (2nd century commentary on Exodus) and Rashi, that this prohibition is for all times, not just for that generation. "Face" ("panim") connotes Presence (e.g. Ex. 33:14-15 “My face shall go before you”). And as YHVH's Presence 'automatically' includes place or location, this singular prohibition applies to all places.4  YHVH's jealousy over His People (v. 5) may be likened to the response of a jealous husband, thus making the Covenant of Elohim with Yisrael much like that of a marriage contract,5 as mentioned above. In verse 7 a change of person takes place. From now to the end of the decalogue YHVH will be mentioned in 3rd person, whereas up to this point He was the One speaking.  

 

Now come the declarations concerning the Shabbat. Although the Shabbat is to be an expression of the People's relationship with YHVH, its observance instructions ‘overflow’ into the community, and affect inter-personal associations. Shabbat stems from the root “to sit” - “shevet” (sh.v.t. shin, bet/vet, tav). Sitting implies rest and bringing activity to a halt, ceasing, such as YHVH did when “He ceased from all His work” of creation in B’resheet (Gen. 2:2 italics added). Whereas all other 'calendarian' divisions (such as days, months, and years) are dictated by natural phenomena, the seven-day week is purely a spiritual ‘divide’.

 

Since the first One to celebrate the Shabbat was Elohim Himself, after He had completed His work of Creation it follows that, by this universal declaration, He and He alone is the Creator! In Sh’mot (Exodus) 31:12-17 we are told that the Shabbat is an "eternal covenant" and a sign between YHVH and the sons of Yisrael. In D’varim (Deut.) 5:14-15 the reason given for celebrating the Shabbat's rest, together with one's entire household, is in order to remember the slavery in Egypt, and the freedom realized upon being brought out of there "by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm". Here it is an acknowledgment of the miracle of ceasing to be a ‘slave’ (one who never rests), and of becoming free. Similarly, we are no longer “slaves to sin, but have been set free” from it (Rom. 6:6, 18). Hebrews 4:1-11 tells us that the Shabbat rest is the reward bestowed on the one who believes and obeys; Hence Shabbat also speaks powerfully of one's faith and obedience. The cessation from manual labor and from financial worries is a proclamation of trust and faith in the Heavenly Father for all provisions - not only during Shabbat, but also at all other times. We noted above that Shabbat is rooted in the verb "to sit". Yeshua, after having completed His task of offering the sacrifice for all times, “…sat down at the right hand of Elohim” (ref. Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 10:12 italics added).

 

Following the Shabbat's injunctions is the command concerning honoring of parents; "honoring" is esteeming them “weighty” ("kabed", k.b/v.d, as we observed in last week’s Parasha), with its promise of long life "upon the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you" (v. 12). Thus, there is a gradual and progressive transition from the "heavenly" precepts to the Shabbat being a link between the heavenly bond and its earthly expression, through to injunctions concerning one's nuclear family which is to reflect the relationship with the Heavenly Father, all the way down to one's conduct within the community (vs. 13-16), and finally to the hidden motives of one’s heart (v. 17). Immediately after YHVH declares the above, we are told that “… all the people witnessed the thundering, the lightning flashes, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking…” (20:18). As to the “witnessing”, the Hebrew says “ro’eem”, that is, present tense “seeing” – “and all people – “am” – is seeing the voices, and the lightning flashes and the sound of the shofar…” (italics added).

 

The present tense, as well as the “seeing of the voices”, transports us from a naturally perceived scene to one that is beyond the natural faculties and senses. Almost as if the dramatic spectacle was outside the realm of Time, and beyond simple and direct visibility.  More than once mention is made of the fact that YHVH was in the “cloud”, or “smoke” (19:9-10, 16, 18; 20:18). But in 20:21 we encounter a reference to a new term - “arafel” – translated, “thick darkness”, or “gloom”. The root of “arafel” is the verb “arof” (ayin, resh, pey/fey), meaning “to drip”, hence employing a figure of speech related to precipitation, such as the cloud. This is a description of the “veiled glory” of YHVH, so many times made deliberately vague in order to protect His people from His awesome presence that cannot dwell alongside sin. Thus, everyday life situations which may appear dark, uncertain, bleak, or foggy are not always to be perceived as negative. Rather, they may point to the “arafel”, that is “the thick darkness where Elohim is”. In order to allay the people's fear of YHVH's presence, Moshe says: "Do not fear, for Elohim has come to test you…". "Test you" is "le'nasotcha", which contains "ness", meaning "miracle" or "banner". One of the commentaries offers the idea that YHVH is 'lifting up His people as a banner'.

 

YHVH continues to elaborate on His instructions, speaking through Moshe (20:22-26). In contradiction to the prohibition against the making of images and glorifying precious metals (v. 23), comes the statement: “An altar of earth you shall make for Me” (v. 24). “Altar” is “miz'be'ach”, of the root z.v.ch (zayin, bet/vet, chet) - "to sacrifice". The altar is to be made of earth - adama - the substance that makes up man’s material being and after which he is named (Adam). If the “miz'be'ach” should be made of stones, they are not to be embellished by any of man's efforts, or by tools and implements that are made by his hand (v. 25), lest the altar is desecrated. “Profane or desecrate is "chalel" (ch.l.l., chet, lamed, lamed), meaning also "pierced through" or "hollow", and hence, "flute" and "slain". In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:5 we read, “He was pierced through – mecholal (of the same root) - for our transgressions”. However, as we have just seen, “mecholal” does not only mean “hollow” (and hence “pierced through”), it is also “desecrated”, as indeed Yeshua was, having borne our Sin. Last to be mentioned is the prohibition concerning steps leading up to the altar, so that one's nakedness would not be exposed. “Nakedness” here (v. 26) is "erva" (a.r.h, ayin, resh, hey), "to lay bear, uncover", and "shame". It can also mean "to pour out" or "to empty one's self", such as Yeshua did when He poured out (heh'e'ra) His soul unto death” (Is. 53: 12), so that our ‘nakedness’ would be covered, and our shame removed.



1 Moses on the Witness Stand, Shlomo Ostrovski, Keren Ahava Meshichit,  Jerusalem, 1976, 1999.

 

2 New Studies in Shmot Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. 

 

3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago,  1980.

 

4 New Studies in Shmot, Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. 

 

5 The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 1991.

  

 

 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Walking on Egg Shells

 

Most recently I have been reading a book by David R. Parsons called, “Flood Gates”.  Perhaps some of you are already aware of his writings.  The title comes from the historical account of the flood during the days of Noah, while the narrative continues to specify the reasons which brought down the Almighty’s wrath on the ancient world of that day.  The author then fast forwards to our modern era, and attempts to answer a question that many bible believers are asking today: ‘Are we living again in the days of Noah?’

One would have to be blind not to see that this world is walking, though unawares, on egg shells toward the outpouring of the “wrath of the Lamb”.  We do not know how long we have before the cup of iniquity will be poured out, as Peter referenced: “When Elohim waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:20).  However, there are some good news, even in the midst of Elohim’s judgements. YHVH always preserves for Himself a righteous remnant that, will survive and continue to serve Him and the Lamb under all conditions and circumstances.

In this week’s Parashat B’shalach, we are witnessing YHVH’s mighty right hand delivering our ancestors from the perusing army of Pharaoh.  In Exodus chapter 13:21-22  we read a most encouraging word to these escapees: “And YHVH went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people”. I take great solstice from these words, as YHVH was basically saying to them, ‘I will not abandon you, but will be your light in the darkness and covering in the day.  I will lead you and protect you even though you do not know what is before you or behind’.  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘YHVH is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’" (Hebrews 13:5-6; Psalms 118:6).  

 

But, if we do have to walk through difficult times, the apostle places before us a question: “…what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11).  Earlier in his letter, Peter already pointed out that YHVH had given to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, and that we are partakers of the divine nature (ref. 2 Peter 1:3-4). Having received this power, we are enabled to walk in a manner that fulfills YHVH’s instruction regarding righteousness, by being “…of one mind, having compassion and love for one another; …tenderhearted, courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that we were called to this, so that we may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9).  This blessing may be applicable to us as the remnant of righteous ones, who are and will be protected during days in which YHVH judges the wicked. Seeing that the times are evil, we should be on the alert, making sure not to be slack in our discernment.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds... but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).  


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B'shalach - (Exodus: 13:17 - 17:16)

 

The peculiarities characterizing the relationship of a graceful, sustaining and forgiving Elohim with a people, who are marked by vacillation and unbelief, are very evident in Parashat B’shalach. This makes the current Parasha a most suitable introduction to this relationship, foreshadowing that which will continue to transpire for many generations to come. The opening words, referring to Par’oh's release of the Israelites, without attributing it to YHVH, have been called into question. However, since in the process of negotiating with Par’oh the term "let go" ("sh.l.ch", literally to “send or send off") is used time and again (seven, to be exact) and to no avail, the opening words of this Parasha point out that (ultimately) the ruling king is compelled, "willy nilly", to do just that.1. This is especially so, since we noticed last week that it was incumbent (legally) for Par’oh to let the Hebrews go, in an act which signified a divorce-like separation. Right after the "sending" it says that, "Elohim did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines" (13:17 emphasis added). "Lead" here is "nacham", of the root n.ch.h (noon, chet, hey). The same verb is used again, in verse 21, where it says that, "YHVH was going before them, in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them ["lan'chotam"] on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night". In Moshe’s Song (15:13) he specifies further, saying (literally), "by Your grace you led the people…" (using the same verb). This root is also used in “satisfaction” or “peace” (e.g. Pro. 29:9), while the root n.o.ch, which is a related root, means “rest”. Thus YHVH’s guidance and leading of His people during the entire wilderness journey, including the events described here, promise to be marked by these qualities. Interestingly, a potential encounter with the Philistines caused YHVH to take Yisrael in a round about way, even though they “came up from the land of Egypt prepared for action [or] in martial array – chamushim” (14:18b italics added). The root ch.m.sh (chet, mem, shin) also serves the figure “five” – “chamesh” - which is thought to be the minimal number required for taking action.

The next phase wherein the Children of Yisrael find themselves 'between a rock and a hard place' (14:2, 3), forms an inseparable part of YHVH's plan for them. However, the names of the sites cannot be ignored. “Pi Hahirot (Ha’chirot) …. opposite Baal Zephon (Tz’fon)”, reads very closely to “Pi Ha’cherut” – which is the “mouth” or “opening” of liberty, while “tz’fon” can be easily read as tzafon which is north. According to Isaiah 14:13b, the ends of the north is where Lucifer aspires to sit. Thus the “opening of liberty”, on one hand, and “Baal” and “north” on the other seem to indicate spiritual warfare (see Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before in the presence of my enemies”). Is this why we read above that the sons of Yisrael came out of Egypt “in martial array”? Yet, had they been told at that time, “…be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of Elohim that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11), it would have been to no avail…

YHVH intends to be "honored – ve’eka’veda’ - through Pharaoh" (ref. 14:4). "Honor" (and "glory" too) here, and in most other places is "kavod", meaning "weightiness" or "heaviness". In verses 17 and 18 YHVH repeats the principle, "…then the Egyptians will know that I am YHVH, when I am honored - ve’eka’veda - through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen" (emphasis added). A little later YHVH "caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty…" literally "with heaviness" - "bich'vedoot" (v. 25, emphasis added). This is indeed an intriguing usage of the figurative and literal manifestation of the "glory" and "honor" of the Elohim of Yisrael, who is to be honored even through the heaviness of His enemies’ chariots! But the divine irony did not end there (as we have noted in the previous parashot where we encountered quite a few times the term “Pharaoh hardened his heart”. Occasionally the verb used was “hach’bed” – made heavy (i.e. harden), such as in Sh’mot (Exodus) 8:28). Thus, it was the very “heaviness” of Par’oh’s heart (and also, proverbially, of his chariots) which brought about “high esteem” – kavod – to the Elohim who used the enemy’s ploys for the sake of His name. (Another reminder, looking back at the time when Moshe was first commissioned by YHVH, his initial response was that he “was slow of speech and slow of tongue”, which in Hebrew is a “heavy mouth” and a “heavy tongue” - k’vad peh, k’vad lashon. Thus by Moshe’s weakness YHVH was, once again, glorified.)

Much of the description of the scene of the mighty deliverance (chapter 14) is echoed in chapter 15, by what is typically known as the "Song of Moses", or in Hebrew “Shirat Ha’Yam” – the Song of the Sea, rendering this Shabbat’s title, the Shabbat of the Song - Shabbat Shira. But before we go there, let us pause at the “dry land” which the children of Yisrael had crossed in 14:21. The word used here is “charava”, instead of the more common ”yabasha”, such as in verse 22. The root ch.r.v (chet, resh, vav), which means destruction, may have been selected in order to point out the lot that was about to befall the Egyptian army. The "six hundred select chariots" and the "officers in command" of 14:7 become in 15:4 "the choicest of his officers" (when describing their drowning). "Select" and "choicest" are denoted by the same word, the root being b.ch.r (bet, chet, resh), and the "officers" (in both references) are "shalishim", which is of the root "three" – shalosh - making them (possibly) "third in command". In 14:8 we are told that "the sons of Yisrael came out with a lofty arm" (literal translation), and in 15:1, "the horse and its rider was lifted into the sea" (literal translation, emphasis added). In both instances, the word is "rah'ma", which also means "highexaltedliftedlofty". This type of repetition lends a dual dimension to the description; thus it is YHVH's "high and lifted arm" (ref. 14:8, emphasis added) which in this case raised high the waves and lifted off the riders and horses, casting them into the sea.

When the Israelites saw the Egyptians drawing close, they became very fearful ("vayir'u", root y.r.a – yod, resh, alef), and cried out to YHVH (ref. 14:10).  Moshe exhorts them: "Do not fear ("tir'oo", again y.r.a), stand and watch (literally: "see", "look at", “observe”) the salvation of YHVH" (v. 13). Moreover, while it is only the "midbar" (desert, v. 3) and the Egyptians that their eyes were looking at and seeing (v. 10), Moshe assured them that they would “never see the Egyptians again" (v. 13, emphasis added). "YHVH will fight for you while you keep silent" (v. 14 italics added) is stated in contradistinction to their "crying out" (v. 10, italics added). And thus YHVH responds to Moshe: "Why are you crying out to Me?" (v. 15, italics and emphasis added). Finally, after crossing the sea and walking on dry land, the "seeing" and the "fear" are transformed, and so we read: "Israel saw the great power which YHVH had used against the Egyptians, and the people feared YHVH, and they believed in YHVH and in His servant Moses" (14:31, emphases added).

When Moshe addressed the people in 14:13, he referred to "the salvation – ‘yeshu-ah’ - of YHVH", whereas in the song (in 15:2) YHVH Himself is the (epitome of) salvation, as well as the very strength and the song itself, while the “song” is called zimrah. The latter reference to the song is reminiscent of the word used by Ya'acov in B’resheet (Genesis) 43:11, where the "produce of the land" was described. Although "zemer" is “song” and the verb "le'za'mer" is to sing, another form of this verb is "lizmor", denoting "cutting" or "pruning" (ref. Lev. 25:3). This led some of the commentators to explain that "zimrah" is used here not as a song, but rather as a "cutting off" (of the enemy).2

The Song does not only employ words which echo and amplify the narrative that precedes it, some terms are also repeated, or contrasted within the poem itself, thus underscoring them as for example, in "this is my Elohim and I will glorify Him…" (15:2), "I will glorify" is "an'vehu" of the root n.v.h. (noon, vav, hey), which means "beautiful" or "adorn", in reference to an abode. In verse 13 we read "…You guided them [the People] to Your holy abode" - "n'veh kodshecha". This is seen as either a reference to Mount Sinai, the land of Yisrael, the future Temple in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) - or to possibly all three of them together – the principal resting places of His Shekina Glory. 3 Thus, the combined usage of the root n.v.h in the poem creates a collage of the Present Presence of the Presence and indwelling of the One Who is guiding and leading His People as a Shepherd to a resting place where He will continue to reside (among them). In 15:17 there is also a reference to the settling of the Nation in Elohim's dwelling place and sanctuary, "mikdash", echoing “neveh kodshecha” of verse 13 (“Your holy habitation”).

The enemies of Yisrael, Egypt, as well as Philistia, the "chiefs of Edom", "heads of Mo'ab" and the “inhabitants of Canaan” are likened to "lead" and "stone" sinking into the depths, and also to a "still stone" (15: 5, 10, 16). In verse 10, “they [sink] like lead in the mighty waters”. “Mighty” is “adirim” (plural for “adir”) of the root a.d.r (alef, dalet, resh) which also stands for "majestic". It is repeated twice more here, both times in connection with YHVH: "Your right hand YHVH is majestic in power" (v. 6), and "who is like You, majestic in holiness" (v.11). It is the majesty and might of YHVH which lends these very properties to the “waters” (of the sea) when used by Him for His purposes, (although another interpretation is that “adirim” – majestic – is in reference to the princes who “drowned like lead”. 

In 15:1 Moshe and Yisrael sing, "I will sing to YHVH because He is exalted… ga'o - ga'a". Verse 7 also mentions "Your exaltedness” - ge'on'cha”, again of the root g.a.h (gimel, alef, hey).  Verse 7 continues: "You send forth Your wrath and it consumes them [the enemy] like stubble" (emphasis added). YHVH's wrath is compared to a consuming fire, while the next verse says: "With the blast of your nostrils the waters were heaped up… the depths froze up" (emphasis added). According to the Daat Mikrah commentary, this text may be interpreted as two opposite actions performed by the wind at YHVH’s command: burning on one hand, and freezing on the other.4

In the course of the brief time covered by our Parasha, the Children of Yisrael find four occasions to complain. We are told that at Mara (“mahr” is “bitter”), after the act of causing the water to become sweet by casting a tree or a stick, which YHVH pointed out to Moshe, "He made a statute and an ordinance and there He tried them" (15: 25b). But whereas the Yisraelites are tried at Mara, in Refidim they "try YHVH" and are also quarreling with Him, when "there was no water" (17:7). Hence the place is named Masa (of "nisayon" - "to try"), and Meriva (from "riv" which is "quarrel"). In between these two episodes, they demand food and thus obtain the quail meat for the evening meal and "manna" for the morning (ref. chapter 16). Since the shape and texture of the manna was unfamiliar to them, "they asked each other: 'mah'n hu?'" or "what is it?" (16:15). Mah'n is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew "mah", meaning "what".

Although at the beginning of the Parasha YHVH averts the children of Yisrael from the path of war, by the end of the narrative they find themselves in a battle with Amalek, a descendant of Esav (Gen. 36:12). Again, YHVH's miraculous intervention on their behalf is evident, coupled with faith (ref. Hebrews 4:2), symbolized by Moshe's "steadily" held arms. The Hebrew word for steady here is "emuna", literally "faith" (17:12), thus causing Yehoshua (Joshua) to "weaken Amalek" (v. 13). Moshe’s arms are denoted by the word “yad” (also “hand”). In the final verse of our Parasha, Moshe makes a proclamation about another “yad” - a “yad” which is “on Yah’s throne”, pointing to YHVH’s oath regarding His “war with Amalek from generation to generation” (17:16).5. We have just encountered the “yad” of YHVH (“hand” as distinct from “arm” – z’roah – and from “right hand or arm” – yamin) in the process of emerging from Egypt (e.g. 14:8, “yad ramah” – a lifted up hand; 14:31 – “yad g’dola” – “great/mighty hand”; 15:17 “kone’nu yade’cha” – “your hands have established us”). If YHVH places His hand on His throne (as in a gesture of making an oath), He will surely carry out that which He set out to perform.

Our Parasha is characterized by the contrast between the manifest Presence and Glory of YHVH and the peoples' total focus on their immediate needs and fears, blinding them to the greatness and might displayed before them - so much so that even at the end (just before the battle with Amalek) they dare ponder, “Is YHVH among us, or not?" (17:7b).

 

                    1. New Studies in Shmot Part 1, Nechama Leibowitz, trans.

                        Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah

                       Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc.,

                       Brooklyn, N.Y.

                      2. The Chumash Shmot With The Commentary Daat Mikrah,

                          Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 1991.

              3. Ibid.

             4. Ibid.

                    5. Ibid.