1. Every Shabbos Mevarchim has the quality of bestowing a general blessing on the coming month, as well as particular blessings for the unique characteristics and aspects of the respective month.

When we gather for a farbrengen on a Shabbos Mevarchim we enhance this effusion of blessings. The farbrengen intensifies the blessings of the Holy One, Blessed be He, to the Jewish people. It also focuses the blessings of G‑d on areas of Torah and Divine service leading to renewed resolve on the part of the community.

Thus, the blessings of G‑d on all the assembled, in all their needs, is enhanced. This blessedness will be seen and felt in the success of the farbrengen itself — there will be renewed enthusiasm and firm resolutions in all areas of Divine service, and specifically in those areas relating to the month ahead.

What is the special theme of the month of Shvat?

Scripture makes it very clear!

On the first of the eleventh month in the fortieth year...Moshe began to explain the law on the east bank of the Jordan in the land of Moav.... (Devarim 1:3-5)

Rashi adds an important point:

In the seventy languages (of the ancient world) did he explain it to them. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

From here we see that the predominant theme of Shvat is to teach and disseminate Torah and Yiddishkeit everyday, in every place and under every circumstance. This means reaching out to Jews who are far away from Torah to the point that the Torah must be translated for them into their mother tongues, the “70 languages.”

This would also include outreach to our non-Jewish neighbors in the manner described in the Rambam:

..to compel all human beings to accept the commandments enjoined upon the descendants of Noach. (Laws of Kings 8:10)

They too must be encouraged and motivated by logic and reason, in their mother tongues, to accept the aspects of Torah pertinent to them.

This ancient theme of Shvat (starting from Rosh Chodesh), as an opportune time for teaching and speaking Torah and Yiddishkeit will also find special emphasis in our generation, when the tenth of Shvat took on new significance.

The tenth of Shvat is the “Hillula” — day of passing — of the Previous Rebbe, the Nasi of our generation, and as explained in Tanya:

All his doings, his Torah and the Divine service which he served all the days of his life...become revealed and radiate in a manifest way from above downwards at the time of his passing...and effect salvation in the midst of the earth. (Iggeres Hakodesh 27-28)

The Shabbos on which we bless this month provides us with the special powers relating to the theme of the tenth of Shvat and empowers and invigorates us to assume the necessary resolutions needed to follow in the path of the Previous Rebbe. This will especially include the work of spreading Torah and Chassidus and “disseminating the wellsprings” to the outside.

The theme of Shvat which begins on Rosh Chodesh is related to us in the Written Torah, and it comes at the start of the month. On the other hand, the theme of the tenth of Shvat is new to this generation. Despite this, we must place greater emphasis and harder work on the aspects of Divine service introduced by the tenth of Shvat. We must arouse enthusiasm, in the areas which relate to us and our times.

The translators and commentators on the meaning of prayer ask why, in our liturgy, we say “Our G‑d” before “G‑d of our fathers.”

Reason would seem to dictate the reverse order. After all, He was G‑d of our fathers before we were born. Likewise, the efficacy of the prayer should logically be enhanced by first mentioning the merit of our forefathers’ faith.

The truth, however, is that the immediacy and intimacy of our prayer requires us first to acknowledge and declare our faith by saying: “our G‑d.” Having made that declaration and having evoked the proper intention in our prayer, we may then invoke the memory of our forebears.

Because we care about our faith in G‑d and it is vital to us, it will effect more kavanah (intention and concentration) and feeling in our prayers. We will work harder and consequently our prayers will be more efficacious. This is the power of the human spirit.

The Previous Rebbe, in the name of the Rebbe Maharash, once explained this indomitable human power in relation to the Talmudic discussion concerning the hair-splitting arguments and counter arguments which might arise in cases where women are the principals and litigants, including even the protestations of an ignorant, illiterate, non-Jewish slave-girl.

The Tannaim and Amoraim debate all the fine points of what these women might argue. The question arises: The sages of the Talmud had reached the highest level of human intellect and had toiled day and night in the study of Torah to the point of self-abnegation. So much so, that the Torah is attributed to them. Now, is it possible that the ignorant slave-girl will think of any of these lofty and brilliant ideas or points? What is the rationale?

The answer is that when something is truly important, when your life or pride or money is on the line and you really care, then, even the illiterate slave girl will come up with ingenious logic and arguments, way beyond her normal mental ability.

By way of analogy the same is true in prayer, when a Jew opens his prayer with the statement: “Our G‑d,” which means that the relationship is special and important; then the ensuing prayer will be on a much loftier plane. His bittulhumility and self-deprecation — will be much more sincere, and hence, his kavanah, intention and concentration, will be much more intense.

Therefore, when we have a choice of giving precedence to a matter which we inherited from our forefathers (the teaching of the month of Shvat) or to a theme introduced more recently in our own generation, it makes sense to emphasize the enthusiasm in the newer matter, for it is closer to us and we can feel it more strongly; this is the theme of the Hillula of the tenth of Shvat.

Starting out with this theme in our Divine service we can then undertake all the previous commitments in a more enhanced manner.

Let us therefore evaluate and appreciate the preciousness of every moment of this month, Shvat, and make the proper resolutions and efforts to utilize every moment properly.

May you see success in spreading the blessings of Shabbos Mevarchim to all Israel and to each of you individually and to increase in all matters connected with the tenth of Shvat. Spreading the fountains of Torah to the outside and reemphasizing the Previous Rebbe’s urgent call, “Immediate repentance — Immediate redemption.” Spreading the fountains of Chassidus will bring the King Mashiach and the true and complete redemption speedily and truly in our times.

2. Being that we read the portion of Shemos this year on Shabbos Mevarchim Shvat, we should seek the special connection between the two. This may be expressed both by the subject matter of the portion and also by its name, Shemos.

The context of this portion is the period and experience of the Egyptian bondage. Back in the Book of Bereishis we read how the fledgling Jewish nation “descended” to Egypt but the true galus and servitude began after Yosef and his generation passed away, which is related to us in the book of Shemos. Thus, the beginning of Shemos begins with the story of the exile. We are told how it happened that the Jewish people came to Egypt, and how and when the servitude started.

We are told that:

The Egyptians started to make the Israelites do labor designated to break their bodies, (Shemos 1:13)

and that Pharaoh decreed the inhumane, insidious injunction:

Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile.... (Ibid. 1:22)

Thus, we are taken through the story of slavery till, at the close of today’s portion, we see how the Jewish people reach the worst state of slavery:

Do not give the people straw for bricks as before. Let them go and gather their own straw. Meanwhile you must require them to make the same quota of bricks as before. Do not reduce it...you will not be given any straw but you must deliver your quota of bricks. (Ibid.:7-18)

Following this the Torah goes on to tell us:

Moshe returned to G‑d and said; O L‑rd, why do You mistreat Your people? Why did You send me? As soon as I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he made things worse for these people. You have done nothing to help Your people. (Ibid.:22-23)

Very disheartening and despondent words. Not only was there no easement as a result of Moshe’s confrontation with Pharaoh, quite to the contrary, conditions were exacerbated. Moshe, whose essence was truth, made this statement! It was actually so!

The last verse of the portion does seem to hold hope:

Now you will begin to see what I will do to Pharaoh. He will be forced to let them go. [Not only that but] he will be forced to drive them out of his land. (Ibid. 6:1)

Yes, this sounds hopeful, that is why the portion ends with this verse, but it only speaks of the future, and even in its promise of salvation there is the hint of trouble, for we are foretold that there will be such Jews who will notwant to leave Egypt and Pharaoh will have to force them to go.

So, the entire portion deals with exile and slavery. In Vaeira the redemption begins, and Pharaoh begins to get his punishment, but in Shemos — only trouble and exile!

Now if the context and theme of this portion is slavery and exile why call it “Shemos — Names” what relationship do “names” have with galus?

Furthermore, the Midrash says:

Now these are the names of the sons of Israel — these are mentioned here on account of the pending redemption of Israel. (Shemos Rabbah 1:5)

Moreover, we find that the Jewish names was a reason for redemption. Again the Midrash:

Israel were redeemed from Egypt...because they did not change their names...having gone down as Reuven and Shimon and having come up as Reuven and Shimon.

Does it make sense that the portion which deals solely with exile and suffering should be called “Shemos,” which connotes redemption?

The answer, in a nutshell, is that the term “names” in its external application may actually be related to exile and not redemption; only when we dig down and reveal its esoteric and essential facet will we find redemption.

Names really represent two opposing aspects and facets.

A name can serve as a mask. Two very different people may have the same name and through the name we will know absolutely nothing about the individuals so named.

However, on the other hand, a person’s name is connected to his inner essence and being. Chassidus explains that the letters of a person’s name carry the code and create the conduit for the G‑dly life-force to radiate and flow into his body. In addition to this, when you call someone’s name you awaken the inner soul. When someone is in a state of faintness and his external powers are not functioning it is a good idea to call his name. This will jar his essential life-force and generate new energy from his soul to his body and his senses. This aspect of the name points to the facet of revelation — for it reveals his inner soul!

The most apparent aspect and characteristic of a name is the fact that it does not reveal the nature of the person — to the point that many different people may be called by the same name. Their differences are immediately apparent. The common factor relative to the common name might completely elude us. One would have to be an accomplished seer to actually evaluate the common factor.

The second aspect of the character of names is a bit more unclear — only through learning Chassidic philosophy can we actually understand the relationship of the name with the soul and inner life-force.

However, since Chassidus has revealed this inner nature and character of names, it is no longer an esoteric science and it has been transferred from the realm of the “secret” to the “revealed” Torah.

We see this phenomenon expressed in the fact that the average person knows and talks about the power of the name to awaken a person from his lethargy, even though he may not understand just how it works. This is bolstered by the fact that in discussing the character and spiritual essence of names, Chassidus brings an illustration from real life. When someone faints, one way to revive him is to call his name in his ear. When Chassidus uses empirical evidence for its theories and postulates, the reason can only be, to indicate that the rule is not only true in the spiritual realm but it also applies in a revealed manner in the physical body of a person.

The philosophical theory explains that the life of the soul is drawn down and enclothed in the body through the letters of the name, and the experimental evidence tells us that this association is so strong that it will affect the physical body.

So, in this case of names, while the initial understanding was that it relates to the object or person in a superficial and unrevealed way, after studying the Chassidicinsight we see the inner quality of the name — the revelation of the essential soul.

This brings us to the name of this portion, whose theme is galus. Galus connotes no change in the essence, rather just the concealment of the heart of the object. The true intrinsicality of the matter is there in the galus, but it is not revealed.

You can now see the connection between galus and names. Galus is concealment, and the name — as we see it — also conceals the true quintessence of matter. The true substance of a person is not evident from his name.

A bit more profoundly, this would mean that Jews can be in galus only when they function in a manner of “names” — when the essential constitution of a Jew is hidden, then the condition of galus may overcome him. This is what the Torah hints at when it tells us:

These are the names of Israel’s sons who came to Egypt.... (Shemos 1:1)

However, when the essentialness, which is hidden in the names, is revealed, then the exile dissipates and a state of redemption is attained. As the Midrash states: The names are mentioned “on account of the pending redemption.”

Thus the gist of this explanation is:

Although there have been times when the condition of the Jewish people was such, that their powers and senses were blocked and hidden, even to the point of faintness, even to the degree that they were called “idolaters,” nevertheless, their essential inherence still stood on the highest pinnacle — it just waited to be revealed. How? By calling the name! This “call” opens the valve and draws and reveals the hidden powers into revelation and action — to the point that they become enclothed in the body.

In this light we can see an association between the portion of Shemos with Shabbos Mevarchim Shvat.

This Shabbos Mevarchim bestows the blessing on the month, especially in the themes of Rosh Chodesh and the tenth, which is to reach out and teach Jews Torah; even such Jews who need to learn in one of the seventy languages.

But what happens when you meet a Jew who outwardly shows nosign of his Jewish nature and substance. He only carries the “name” Jew, and it does not reveal his essentiality and it is only a secondary appellation.

It is for such “named” Jews that the portion of Shemos directs us to the Chassidic interpretation of names which illuminates the darkness and shows us how to use the name to reveal the essence.

He possesses the title “Jew” — then you must realize that it is his real intrinsicality, for that is the true theme of the name. Thus, his essence is really Jewish and he really wants to do mitzvos. Being a child of G‑d: “My son, My firstborn, Israel,” he wants to follow his Father.

Consequently, we may not look at his outward appearance, we must just labor to reveal his essence. In a true and sincerely heartfelt manner call out to him — to the “Jew” within him — you will awaken the essential Jew to reveal itself and act. It will be immediate and direct and it will bring action first, and then influence the mind and heart, later.

This is redemption by name!

For this reason the Previous Rebbe (whose hillula is on the 10th of Shvat) wrote the following about his release from incarceration:

Not me alone did the Holy One, Blessed be He, liberate, but also all those...whoarecalledbythenameJew.”

The simple people experience the same redemption as the Rebbe! The name Jew is the common denominator.

3. Being that today is the 23rd of Teves, it is connected with the 20th of Teves, last Wednesday, which was the yahrzeit of the Rambam, and with the 24th of Teves, tonight, the yahrzeit of the Alter Rebbe.

How are these two days connected to the portion of Shemos which we read today.

There is a common denominator for the deeds, teachings and Divine service of the Rambam and the Alter Rebbe (which is revealed at the time of the yahrzeit).

History indicates that both the Rambam and the Alter Rebbe endeavored diligently to raise the conditions and honor of the Jewish people. And they also expended great effort to reach out and attract the hearts of the Jewish masses to move closer to G‑d.

Similarly, in their teachings they both illuminated the world with the brilliance of their knowledge, both in the revealed and the concealed areas of Torah — law and philosophy.

Specifically, the Rambam wrote his halachic work, Mishneh Torah, which gathered in one opus all of the Oral Torah. In philosophy, he deals with the secrets of creation and the Supernal Chariot in the first four chapters of Mishneh Torah, and in much greater detail in his Guide for the Perplexed.

The Alter Rebbe authored his halachic work, the Shulchan Aruch, and revolutionized Jewish philosophy with the teachings of Chabad Chassidus.

The Ramban writes, “The whole Torah is comprised of Names of the Holy One, Blessed be He.” (Ramban, Introduction to Commentary on Torah)

So the Rambam and Alter Rebbe, by expounding the revealed and, especially, the esoteric Torah, are dealing with the NamesofG‑d — a clear connection to the portion of Shemos, which will also be revealed in Chassidus.

We may also add, that one way to achieve the revelation of G‑d’sname is to help other Jews come close to G‑d by revealing the essence of their names; which will reveal their essentiality.

May everyone benefit from the blessing of this Shabbos Mevarchim and increase all activities in general for spreading the wellsprings of Torah and Chassidus.

When the effort is done from the heart it is accepted, and when you show a living example you will surely be successful in awakening the essential soul of every Jew. Then you will effect the redemption.

And through our diligent efforts in effecting the personal redemption we will bring about the complete redemption of the Jewish people through our righteous Mashiach. Then the promise “Awake and sing you that dwell in the dust” (Yeshayahu 26:19), shall be fulfilled, and all the righteous tzaddikim will rise; speedily in our time.

* * *

4. In this week’s portion we find several comments of Rashi to be inconsistent with the plain meaning of the verses.

At the beginning of today’s portion the Torah relates the episode of the two,

Hebrew midwives whose names were Shifrah and Puah. (Shemos 1:15)

Pharaoh called them to appear before him and he commanded them:

When you deliver Hebrew women, you must look carefully at the birthstool. If the infant is a boy, kill it, but if it is a girl let it live. (Ibid.:16)


The midwives feared G‑d and did not do as the Egyptian king had ordered them. They allowed the infant boys to live. (Ibid.:17)

In the merit of this good work,

He (G‑d) made for them houses. (Ibid.:21)

On the face of it, this episode is easy to understand and clear, it does not seem to need any special explanation. Rashi, however, is not satisfied! On something so clear as the names of the midwives Rashi discards the simple translation and tells us:

Shifrah — this was Yocheved; (she bore this additional name) because she used to put the babe after its birth into good physical condition (by the care she bestowed upon it). Puah — this was Miriam, (and she bore this additional name) because she used to call aloud and speak and croon to the babe just as women do who soothe a babe when it is crying. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

This is completely incomprehensible!

Why should Rashi change the simple meaning of the verses? Why say that Shifrah and Puah are really Yocheved and Miriam and that they had additional names derived from their good actions?

Another point to ponder. Miriam at this time was five years old — if in fact she were Puah, it would mean that at the tender age of five she was already working as a midwife!

The Rashi expounders explain that what motivated Rashi to connect Yocheved to Shifrah was the final reference to the “houses,” meaning, “families (dynasties) of Kohanim, Levi’im and kings.” Since we do not find another woman whose offspring became the heads of the dynasties, therefore Shifrah must be Yocheved!

However, a careful and thoughtful review of this argument will lead to more profound puzzlement. For, who says that the verse “He made for them houses” refers to families of Kohanim, Levi’im etc.?

Rashi, himself, had to go through analytical acrobatics to establish that “houses” means “families,” bringing the decisive proof from a verse in the Book of Kings in Tanach, concluding that his approach is based on the tractate Sotah, from which we may infer that this is not the simple meaning, rather a Talmudic interpretation.

Thus our difficulty with Rashi is, why say that the houses were “Kohanic and Levitic dynasties” which then forces you to say that Shifrah and Puah are Yocheved and Miriam. Simply translate “houses” as “families” — as we find the verse, “Each one with his family” (Ibid. 1:1).

Then we will be able to accept Shifrah and Puah as two midwives, real people, with those names. Simple!

Another difficulty crops up here. Rashi usually cites in the caption only the words he explains. Why then does he cite: “He made for them houses” when he only explains the word “houses”?

The Explanation:

When the five-year-old Chumash student reaches the verse:

The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shifrah and Puah, (Ibid. 1:15)

he is troubled by a perplexing “Klotz-Kashe”:

In the preceding verses the Torah tells us:

The Israelites were fertile and prolific and their population increased. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them. (Ibid. 1:7)

on which Rashi declared:

They bore six children at one birth. (loc. cit.)

If so, how could two midwives have possibly handled all of the many multiple births? How could they keep up with the tremendous volume of work!

On the other hand, as the five-year-old Chumash student studies further, he will ask a different question.

When Pharaoh cross-examined the midwives: “Why did you do this? You let the boys live!” they said to him in reply,

The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptians, they know how to deliver. They can give birth before a midwife even gets to them.

We must assume that they spoke the truth, because Pharaoh had the power to check up on the facts — so they could not prevaricate.

If so, the question here crops up: If the Jewish women could give birth by themselves — who needs midwives?!

Therefore we must realign our thinking. In fact, the Jewish women didnotneed midwives! However, should there be a case with some complication, then the midwives were necessary to ease the mind of the mothers — they could rest assured that the midwives would be called to help in their special case.

When, however, we speak of such a great multitude of children being born, and all of the births being unusual — six at each birth, it would seem that even for the sake of psychological security two midwives would not suffice. The worried mother would fret that the midwife would not be able to handle the load and not reach her in time.

For this reason Rashi rationalized that the midwives alluded to in Torah were unique, exceptional, outstanding and righteous, upon whom the birthing mothers would and could whole-heartedly rely because of their piety and righteousness.

Thus the simple meaning of the verses will indicate that the midwives were special but it gives no hint as to who they were.

Why not simply say they were named Shifrah and Puah? Well, we do not find any righteous women by those names mentioned earlier in Torah! Since it is difficult for Rashi to be satisfied that the so-called Shifrah and Puah were just two midwives, after establishing that they must have been really special, Rashi is forced to turn to the traditional, masoretic interpretation which was transmitted in the Midrash that the two midwives really were Yocheved and Miriam. Rashi now puts this into the context of the plain meaning of the verse.

When Rashi comes to the close of this episode and he is faced with the meaning of the “houses,” he reasons that it would not be proper to interpret houses as simply “families” — what reward was there in the fact that they married and had families? Every Jewish woman was giving birth to six children at once — having a family was no reward for their self-sacrificing rebellion against Pharaoh’s words.

Could it be that Pharaoh tried to punish them for not following orders and they were protected by G‑d and then had the chance to set up their own families? Could this be their reward? No! Why? Because, when they explained the reason for their noncompliance, that the Jewish women did not need them, we find Pharaoh accepted the excuse — so he would not have attempted to punish them.

Which brings Rashi full circle and leads to the explanation that houses means “dynasties” — of Kohanim, Levi’im and kings:

He made for them houses — houses (dynasties) of Kehunah and Levi’im and of royalty which are all termed “houses,” as it is said, “And Shlomo built the houses of the L‑rd and the house of the king: i.e. a dynasty of Kohanim and Levi’im from Yocheved, and a royal dynasty from Miriam. Just as it is stated in the tractate Sotah. (Rashi 1:21)

We may now explain why Rashi cites the words, “He made for them....” Normally we do not find the words “He made” in the case of a G‑dly reward — rather it usually says, “So that your days...shall be privileged.” Following that manner and style it would have been more appropriate to put the words “Andtheyhad houses.”

When the verse uses the term “He made” it would seem to indicate a special actofcreation here, as a reward for their good deeds.

What does this mean?

Nature and logic would dictate that the service in the Beis HaMikdash should be performed by the firstborn sons, just as in every area the best and the first must be dedicated to G‑d. To give the role of Kehunah to a certain family, for whatever reason, would require a special and out-of-the-ordinary action on the part of G‑d. So the Torah says “And He made....”

Similarly, in the case of the Davidic dynasty of kings. The normal rule would dictate that Jews should have the right to change the royal dynasty for whatever reason. An eternal royal dynasty can only come by unusual Divine fiat. This was the reward for Shifrah and Puah, and therefore the Torah says: “And G‑d made for them houses,” which Rashi immediately explains means the Kohanic, Levitic and royal dynasties.

May G‑d grant that from these words we should merit immediately to see these dynasties — with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach. Dovid King Mashiach, the royal dynasty and Moshe and Aharon, with them the dynasty of Kohanim and Levi’im, speedily and truly in our time.