Thursday, December 17, 2015

"I will Descend with You"

By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, I will descend with you, and I will raise you up" [Bereishit 46:4]. It would seem that Yaacov had fears about going to Egypt. Perhaps he would be forced to remain there. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, therefore promises him that He will bring Yaacov back from there. However, if this is the case, it would have been sufficient to promise, "I will raise you up again." Why was it necessary to also tell Yaacov that G-d would descend with him to Egypt?

The Talmud Yerushalmi answers this with an allegory about a king who had a large palace with a small key. He was afraid that he would lose the key, so he therefore hung it on a large chain, which served as a sign that the key belonged to him. Similarly, the Holy One, Blessed be He, added His name to that of Yaacov – Yisrael spells out the words Yashar El – so that the nation would not be lost among all the other nations, since G-d's name remained with them all the time, and He would not let His name disappear. And that is how the Talmud Yerushalmi explained Yehushua's question, "What will You do about Your great name?" [7:9] – the name which we all share. The Maharal notes that in the above parable the problem is not related to the economic value of the key but rather its valuable use. Without the key it would not be possible to enter the palace. In the same way, if Yisrael would not exist there would be no way for the Master of the World to enter the world. And the Ramban writes about this that if this would happen "the entire intent of the Creation would have been for naught."

Based on this idea, the "Beit Levi" wrote in his sermon for this week that at this point the Holy One, Blessed be He, gave Yaacov "the greatest promise of all promises," that the only way the name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, would be publicized in the world would be through Yisrael. And in this way, when Bnei Yisrael are in exile, the Master of the World is – as it were – in exile too. Thus, the exile of the nation is also exile of the Shechina, the holy Presence, and this serves as a guarantee that Yisrael will in the end be redeemed. This is because the possible degree of desecration of the holy name has a limit to it, and when the time comes for the holy name to be redeemed, then Yisrael will be redeemed too – since they both share the same name, and they cannot be separated. And this is the essence of the promise, "I will descend with you." "As long as you are on a descent, My honor will not be revealed to the world. And this is what is symbolically called that He will descend with them to Egypt, as is written, 'I am with him in his troubles' [Tehillim 91:15]. And when I raise you up, My name will also rise up." Thus, the announcement about a coming exile is intertwined with a promise of redemption that will follow it.

"Rabbi Akiva said: If this were not a written verse, it would be impossible to say it. "... For Your nation which You redeemed Yourself from Egypt, the nation and its G-d" [Shmuel II 7:23]. It is as if Yisrael say to G-d, "You redeemed Yourself."

And this leads us to a novel and very deep interpretation of all the verses which discuss salvation by G-d. "I will be happy with Your salvation" [Tehillim 9:15]... "My heart will be happy with Your salvation" [13:6]... "I will show him My salvation" [91:16]. The simple meaning of these verses is that the Holy One, Blessed be He, will redeem me and I will be happy with the salvation, but in greater depth the joy is that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is Himself redeemed.

When the people circled around the Altar on Succot, what they said according to the first Tana of the Mishna was, "Anna Hashem – Please, G-d, Help us" [Tehillim 118:25]. Rabbi Yehuda, on the other hand, said that the prayer was, "Ani vahu – I and He, help us." Rashi explains that "Anna Hashem" and "Ani vahu" have the same numerical value (78), and that these are two letter sequences that are taken from the "explicit holy name," which has 71 letters. But we may ask: Why were these two combinations chosen? Tosafot write that this is a hint of two verses: "Va'ani - And I am in the midst of the exile" [Yechezkel 1:1] and "Vahu - And He is bound in chains" [Yirmiyahu 40:1]. We are asking G-d – as it were – to help Himself. According to the first Tana, we want Him to rescue us, but according to Rabbi Yehuda, we must ask Him to free Himself. (See Succah 45a.)

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