“These are the shemot (names) of the children of Israel [coming to Mitzrayim (Egypt) . . . Reuben, Shimon, Levi . . .].” (Exodus 1:1-2)

R. Israel Baal Shem, his memory is for a blessing, for the life of the world to come, [interpreted] the verses “They turned Jerusalem into heaps (of rubble); they have given the nivlat (the corpse) of avadecha (Your servants) as food to the birds of the sky, [the flesh of Your devoted ones to the beasts of the earth]” (Psalms 79:1-2):

Galut (exile) came about in this world by our many sins because “they turned Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) into heaps (of rubble).” 1 That is, when a person attained some fear [of God], or some perfection, by the performance of a mitzvah, this leads him to a sense of pride. This is the meaning of “they turned [Yerushalayim]”-their yirah-shalem (perfect fear) 2-”into heaps,” i.e., into a large, high pile. 3 When performing a [good] deed, as of Torah or prayer and so forth, he turns it into a nevel (lyre) and harp; that is, he does so not with fear and love, but as one playing the lyre. 4 This causes, his avodah (service of God) to move-Heaven forbid-to the kelipot (forces of evil). 5 Thus it is written, “as food for the birds of the sky,” which denotes the kelipot. What caused this? The fact that he turned his deed into a nevel (lyre). This is the meaning of “nivlat avadecha as food for the birds of the sky . . . to the beasts of the earth.”

In the same vein one can interpret [our text] “These are the shemot (names) . . .”: What caused the galut and the shimamon (desolation; appalment) 6 of the “coming to Mitzrayim (Egypt),” i.e., into the meitzar (straits) 7 of the galut? The answer is: “Reuben,” i.e., when performing a deed he says to himself “reu (see) the difference between me and other people; 8 for I perform my service [of God] perfectly, and it is only fit that God, may He be blessed, yishma (hear) my voice 9 and yilaveh (attach Himself) to me,” 10 as alluded in [the names] Shimon [and Levi]; and likewise with the other names. 11