3/23/08 Women in Egypt - Judaism has always focused on the now with an emphasis on finding G-d in the circumstances you're in. Not on abusing or denying yourself in this life, for preference in the next.
Passover begins w/ the story of the burning bush, that's the moment that the exodus is set into motion, but how does that begin: Exodus 2:23
…the King of Egypt died, and the Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out. Their outcry because of th work went up to G-d. G-d heard (v'yishmah) their groaning and G-d remembered (v'yesachar) His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. G-d saw (v'yared) the Children of Israel, and G-d knew (v'yedah).
So are we saying that G-d thinks like humans? Hearing reminds him of something, but only seeing is believing so when he saw, he knew? So G-d acts the same as us, where we need to process things before we take action? So the commentaries have a problem with that, those human failings.
So we're going to look at three different European commentaries on this:
Rashi (French): He turned his heart towards them. When you see or hear something, it's external but this level of knowing is, by contrast, internally. He placed his heart in the issue. He. changed his internal reality to truly feel the suffering of the Jewish people.
Ovadiah Sforno (Italy) He recognized the anguish of their hearts. He's turning it around. The heart involved is not G-d's heart, it's the people's. But pain is so deep it can't even be expressed. Crying or talking don't express their pain. That's the pain that G-d knows. Some of their pain could be expressed in their groaning and that G-d heard and sees, but the pain in their hearts, that transcends speech, that's a pain that only G-d can know. It goes beyond what humans can express to other humans.
Nachmonadies (Spain- at time of Inquisition. Nachmanadies was granted safe passage from Spain during the expulsion) He goes even further. At this moment both things happened. Both parties reached a spiritual joining. How do we know? Well, in the word knowing. When Adam knew Eve bonded they bonded at a level of knowledge that creates a deeper intimacy. In their pain, the Jews are able to reach close to G-d & G-d knows them in his heart, intimately.
There is knowledge that does not reach an intimate level. But this knowledge does. This intimacy is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the world. It can be compared to a relationship with your kitchen. You know your kitchen but you don't have a relationship with it. Your family, you have a two-way, intimate relationship with.
In this relationship, two parties meet and this sets up the Exodus, and may even be the purpose of the exodus.
Onkelos' commentary (Greek; Caesar's nephew, a convert) was before the Babylonian exile. He translates like this: The Israelite's servitude was revealed before the L-rd and He said with a memra (word or wisdom) that the L-rd should redeem them.
Something non obvious is happening within G-d, here.
Midrash on Shemot says:
The average person was repenting & even the wicked considered it. And they considered it independently. There wasn't a national movement. There was no mob mentality at work. The people were changing without a national movement to get caught up. And this is what G-d saw and knew.
Now we come to the Hagaddah, and it doesn't quote any of the things we've just been talking about. It goes a whole different way.
And he heard them & remembered – the covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So that's the same. But the next line:
And saw our distress – that means the forced abstinence from normal family life, as it is said, "And G-d saw the children of Israel, and G-d knew"
How do we get to this from these great truths and concepts & turn it into a discussion of family life?
The commentators knew this commentary, they knew the Haggadah which was already around by then, but they discuss totally different things even though they knew this commentary.
So the Talmud in Tractate Sotah ch1 discusses the righteous women of that generation. And it says that when the women drew water, the baskets would come up half with water and half with fish. And they would take would take the fish and prepare it, and heat the water, and they would bring their husbands food & hot baths in the fields, and then they would be intimate in the borders of the fields (in irrigation canals). So what do we learn here? The women would restore health and vitality and feeling of cleanliness to the men and that would inspire them. These are things that could only happen when the men are cleaned & fed.
So in Midrash Tanchuma on Mishpatim, talking about the building of the tabernacle talks about the reason for the wash basin for the priests to wash their hands which was created from the mirrors of the women. The Midrash says that in the fields they would take out their mirrors and the wives would look in them and say to their husband, "I am more beautiful than you" and the husbands would take the mirror and say, "I am more handsome than you." And so they would become aroused and were fruitful and multiplied.
When the time came to build the Mishkan, all of Israel wanted to participate. So the women asked what do we have to contribute, and they brought their mirrors. When Moses saw the mirrors, he came angry with them, but G-d ordered the construction of the wash basin. So the priests washed their hands in a hodgepodge construct while basically staring at themselves.
Normally looking in the mirror is seen as a bad thing, seen negatively, because you should see other people, not yourself. So how did these mirrors become sacred objects?
Jonathan Sax, the chief R. of England tells a story: He did a tour of the world and was meeting great scholars. One of his stops on the tour was to see the Rebbe (z'l) and the Rebbe didn't talk about himself or his opinions, instead he made the Rabbi look at himself. It was a soul-searching half hour. He said the Rebbe was like a mirror.
Many religions encourage external movement. Judaism is about you. It's about looking at yourself and not running away. About Looking at yourself objectively and realizing that you, in your space and your time, are more beautiful. Why are you running away? So when the women brought mirrors, they brought them to show them who they are and to show their husband who they are. So they don't run away from themselves, they see the beauty in themselves as they are.
And when the priests walk into the temple they can't be other than who they are. There's no pretence of holiness, that's nothing more grandiose than the individual. They must see the truth & beauty of who they are in. their circumstances and when they do that, G-d is able to know them. Because they know themselves and recognize that G-d is in their circumstances, G-d, in term, is able to know them.