Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Shemot.

A True Leader

Art by Ahuva Klein
Art by Ahuva Klein

After many years of leadership in the making, the stage was set. G‑d revealed Himself to Moses: I have seen the affliction of My people, I have heard their cries. I'm sending you to redeem them. Go, take them out of Egypt.

Most amazingly however, Moses refuses to go. His brothers and sisters are languishing under the taskmaster's whip, the moment for which the Children of Israel have hoped and prayed for has finally come. Why does Moses refuse?

Moses knew that he would not merit to bring Israel into the Holy Land and thereby achieve the ultimate redemption of his people. He knew that Israel would again be exiled, would again suffer the physical and spiritual afflictions of galut. Therefore Moses refused to go. If the time for Israel's redemption has come, he pleaded with G‑d, send the one through whom You will effect the complete and eternal redemption.

After assuming the mission to take Israel out of Egypt, (under duress,) Moses continued his lifelong struggle. To the very last day of his life, Moses pleaded with G‑d to allow him to lead his people into the Holy Land; he braved G‑d's wrath to eliminate any further galut. In Moses' own words: "I beseeched G‑d... Please, let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan. G‑d grew angry with me... and He said to Me: Enough! Speak no more to Me of this matter..."

Says the Lubavitcher Rebbe: G‑d said "Enough!" but Moses was not silenced. For Moses' challenge of the divine plan did not end with his passing from physical life. The Zohar tells us that every Jewish soul has at its core a spark of Moses' soul. So every Jew who storms the gates of heaven clamoring for redemption continues Moses' struggle against the decree of galut.
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Name and Number

As the book of Exodus opens, the twelve sons of Jacob — a fledgling nation's link to the lives of their founding fathers — have passed on, and the Jewish people are entering their first galut, a 210-year period of exile and spiritual displacement. At this point, the Almighty re-affirms his bond with his people by counting and naming them. G‑d is saying: even if the trials to come will deaden your response to Me, my love for you will not falter.

The count and the name relate to two different — even opposite — aspects of their subject.

Numbers are the ultimate equalizer. The statement "and all the souls descendent of Jacob were seventy" attributes to each an equal standing in the total count. Each of these souls is a unique individual, with his own particular strengths and weaknesses. But in counting them, we underscore their common denominator: the basic fact of their being. On this level, each of the seventy count for no more and no less than "1".

Names, of course, connote the very opposite of commonality. The name identifies, individualizes, distinguishes. This is especially true in the Torah, where names are given to individuals and places to express their unique characteristics and identify their specific function and role.

Throughout the long and bitter galut of Egypt, G‑d kept loving watch over both these faces of Israel. He counted the quintessence of our being, the indestructible core of the Jewish soul. And He named the growing thousands of expressions of this essence, as translated into thousands and then millions of individual lives.
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The Lamb

The Midrash asks: “Why did Moses go to the mountain where he saw the burning bush?” and answers that he was pursuing a runaway lamb. As shepherd of Jethro’s flocks, he took responsibility not only for the herd as a whole, but for every individual sheep. When he saw that a lamb was missing, he pursued it.

This lamb led him to the burning bush.

This was not an accidental sequence. G‑d was seeking a leader for His people. He wanted someone who would be concerned not only with the collective, but with every individual, one who would care for the people’s personal needs. And so He tested Moses.

Unquestionably, every individual has to make sacrifices for society as a whole, but these should be made willingly, not forced upon him. What to ask of a person and how to ask — or more precisely how to create an environment where the person offers without asking — are a leader’s challenge. G‑d was looking for a leader who would not make these choices callously, but would think of every individual as that person would think of his or her self. And so, when Moses chased after the lamb, G‑d showed him the burning bush.
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Beyond Limitations

This week’s Torah portion chronicles the events that happened to the Jewish people after they had been living in Egypt, beginning more than 100 years after they had entered that country. Nevertheless, the verse indicates that, despite having lived there for so long, they were still “coming into Egypt.” To them, it was a foreign land, not their natural habitat. They had been born in Egypt; their parents had been born in Egypt, but it was not their home. It was exile; home was Eretz Yisrael and they were still in the process of “coming to Egypt.”

In chassidic thought, it is explained that Egypt is not only a geographical location but also a state of mind. In fact the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is almost identical to the word meitzarim, which means straits or limitations. Because Eretz Yisrael taught the Jews to continually look up to G‑d, they never could feel at home in Egypt. The concept of life being governed by the natural routine was inherently foreign. Therefore even after living in Egypt for an extended period, the place was new to them.

When viewed in that light, the exodus was an inevitable occurrence. Yes, it took years and, at a certain point, even the Jewish people’s faith was somewhat weakened. But since the Jews, as individuals and as a people, were continually looking to G‑d, ultimately, it was to be anticipated that G‑d would turn to them and redeem them.
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A Shepherd of Israel

The definition of a true Jewish leader is not his lofty personal level, as the head and soul of the people. Rather, that he is able to descend and relate to “the body,” to each of his students and followers on their own level: