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The war of the reptiles

One of the interesting things about Parashat Shemot, viagra 40mg which literally means, recipe “Names, prescription ” is that aside from the initial listing of all the names of Jacob and his sons who came to Egypt, there are no other explicit names mentioned in the Parashah until Moses is given his name by Pharaoh’s daughter. Even Pharaoh is the generic name for all kings of Egypt, but then, most of the time he is just referred to as, “King of Egypt” in the beginning of this parashah.

The names of the midwives, Shifrah and Puah, that are mentioned in the parashah, appear to be their professional pseudonyms, rather than their true names, as Rashi states,

Shifrah (????????) is Yocheved, [so called] because she would improve (???????????) the newborn, and Pu’ah (???????) is Miriam because she would call out (???????) to the newborn, and speak and chatter to the newborn, as women do to calm a crying babe.

Even when the child destined to be the redeemer ofIsraelis born, the names of his family members are not mentioned. We are only told that, “A man from the House of Levi took a daughter of Levi.” When the redeemer is born, his name is also not mentioned explicitly. When the baby gets too old to hide him any longer, his [unnamed] mother places him in a basket and his [unnamed] sister stands by the river to watch what happens to him. Then Pharaoh’s [unnamed] daughter draws him out of the water, “And she called him ‘Moses’” – at last, someone has a name in this anonymous story.

The Midrash teaches us that the Jewish people merited redemption from the Egyptian bondage because,

They did not change their names. “Reuben” and “Shimon” descended toEgyptand “Reuben” and “Shimon” ascended. They did not call Reuben, Rufus, and they did not call Shimon, Luliani, or Joseph, Listim or Benjamin, Alexander.

Parashat Shemot describes the hard labor that the Jewish people suffered at the hands of the Egyptians and interpreting the absence of names in the beginning of the parashah from a realistic perspective, we could say that the Jewish people in Egypt hid their identities out of fear of being punished for their acts as we see that Miriam stood “afar” to watch over her baby brother in the river. But beyond living in constant fear, being exiled in a foreign and hostile environment and suffering slavery and bondage under inhumane conditions strips an individual of all identity by chipping away at his individuality. In our generation, the dehumanizing effects of stripping away a person’s name and identity were practiced by the fiends who executed the horrendous atrocities of the Holocaust.

What’s in a name

Yet, to understand the significance of non-identity more deeply, we need to realize the value of having a name.

When parents name their child, so the sages teach us, they are unknowingly inspired by a spark of prophecy; their choice of a name is actually the definition of their child’s vocation and destiny in the world. In fact, the sages often interpret the names of Biblical figures according to their acts as we see to some extent from the above midrash regarding Shifrah and Pu’ah. We too can glean some measure of insight into our own mission in life by meditating on our Jewish name and the Biblical and Talmudic characters that bore it before us.

Yet, when the Jewish people reeled under the heavy burden of exile, they began to lose sight of their true identity and their individual memory of their national destiny became obscured by the suffering of bondage. Nonetheless, they never truly lost their names. Like a seed that has decomposed in the earth, just when it seems there is no hope for survival and that the people’s spirit has been completely obliterated, God forbid, a fresh sprout of greeny life pushes its way skyward, “Behold a man, whose name is Tzemach [?????], and from beneath him he will sprout [???????].” Mashiach’s name is Tzemach (?????), meaning “a plant”; the redeemer’s name will sprout from an arid wilderness, apparently void of all names. In fact, Mashiach (???????) is a permutation of the words, “a living name” (???? ???); when the Jewish people arouse from their slumber in exile, Jewish names come alive too.

Chassidut teaches us that the “decomposition” experienced in exile is actually the necessary nullification of the ego’s initial self-centredness, allowing a new, refined definition of selfhood to flourish. The names of the children of Israel when they ascended from Egypt were indeed the same names with which they descended, but they were now infused with a new vibrant vitality that the original names could never have attained without first undergoing the refining process in the Egyptian “pot of iron.”

Nameless souls

A name is so inherent to an individual’s selfhood that it is virtually impossible to conceive of someone without a name. Nonetheless, there is a point, in the soul’s very depths, where there is no name and no unavoidable fate, as the sages say, “Israelhave no mazal [fate].” At that very point at which the soul is “an absolute part of God above” there is no way that it can be identified. Although in general we are unable to experience this point of naked Divinity in our souls, it comes to the fore at moments of great self-sacrifice when we are prepared to surrender not only our identity, but our very existence for a cause that is beyond our comprehension. It is at that moment, when we nullify ourselves and our identities, that our name is recreated with a new, refined definition.

When Pharaoh decreed that all male newborns be thrown into theNile, the Jewish people were at the brink of losing all hope. Moshe Rabbeinu’s father, Amram divorced his wife Yocheved to prevent them from losing any children to Pharaoh’s hatred. Because Amram was considered a leader, the entire Jewish people followed suit and divorced their wives. Yet, their daughter Miriam (???????) who was born into the bitterness (?????????) of exile, realized that this was an act of total despair. “Pharaoh’s decree is only on the male newborns, but your decree affects both male and female!” she told her father. Amram subsequently remarried Yocheved and Moses was born. The self-sacrifice that was evident in propogating the Jewish people at a moment of such dire danger is apparent in the absence of their names in the Torah. The light of the Jewish people had almost been totally obliterated in the darkness of exile and their names too.

Once Moses was born, the Divine root of the collective Jewish soul began to shine. Like the light that appeared after the darkness of creation, “She [Yocheved] saw that he [Moses] was good;” the redeemer had arrived to illuminate the darkness of exile.

In an act of total reliance on Divine compassion, Yocheved placed Moses in a basket on the Nile, as Pharaoh decreed, “Every male child shall be cast into the water.” Instead of the act of despair that Amram had initially proposed came an act of total reliance on God, “Cast your burden upon God and He will provide for you.” By totally “relenquishing our souls” (??????? ???????) to God’s compassion, we merit the “Exodus from Egypt” (???????? ????????). Indeed, the two idioms both have a gematria of 891 (11 times 92). All this occurs while Moses remains nameless, before his soul actually descends from that point of anonymous attachment to the Divine.

When the Egyptian princess drew Moses out of the water, in essence, she was bringing him out of his state of non-existence into existence. It was then that she gave Moses (??????) his name, a name which when reversed reads, “the name” (??????). Like Achashverosh’s sleepless night in Megillat Esther, this was the moment when the tables in Heaven were turned around, so to speak, when the redemption of the Jewish people began to sprout from within the Egyptian culture itself. Even though it appeared that nothing had changed, the Jewish people were still enslaved toEgyptand no sign of redemption appeared for another eighty(!) years, nonetheless, the era of redemption had begun.

The Egyptian exile began with a dynasty of nameless Pharaohs, who oppressed the Jewish people in an attempt to obliterate their names and identities. One opinion of the sages states that the ultimate redemption will be marked by a dynasty of righteous messianic kings who are all called “David.” Mashiach will be the one to reveal the hidden point of self-sacrifice in the soul of every Jew, from where he will reemerge revitalized with a new-old name, “David, king of Israel lives and exists!”

The Zohar on Parashat Bo offers a mysterious and most profound explanation why God told Moses “Come to Pharaoh” instead of “Go to Pharaoh.” In a mystical allegory, viagra Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai describes how the Almighty brought Moses through rooms within rooms, until he reached the upper tanin (???????), a type of fearful spiritual reptile. When Moses saw that the tanin, Pharaoh’s soul root, had such a profound spiritual source, he feared it and did not approach it and God took the task of fighting the great reptile Himself, “Here am I upon you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great tanin that lies in its rivers.” Then God said to Moses, “Come [with Me] to Pharaoh.”

What was it about Pharaoh, that great reptile, which made Moses so afraid to approach him?

Kabbalah teaches us that Moses corresponds to the level of wisdom, while Pharaoh’s spiritual source is rooted in the level of crown that is above wisdom. This was why Moses feared Pharaoh.

Chassidut explains that the sefirah of wisdom is the initial spark of consciousness that enters the psyche, yet the flash of wisdom itself cannot be grasped as is and must be contained and developed by the next sefirah, the sefirah of understanding in order to be internalized in our consciousness. However, the sefirah of crown, representing the superconscious, is completely unfathomable to human consciousness, resting above it just as a crown rests above the head.

The crown contains an inner dimension and an outer dimension, which feed the conscious sefirot, beginning with wisdom. Wisdom is like a spring flowing with water, while the superconscious crown is the underground source that feeds the spring. The inner dimension of the crown gently nourishes the spring of wisdom drop by drop, but accessing the waters of the crown’s outer dimension is liable to bring down a flood of destructive forces that are better left alone. Pharaoh drew his powers from the outer dimension of the crown and it was accessing this treacherous torrent that Moses feared until God promised him special assistance. Once we realize that God is with us, we need not fear even the most powerful forces and we need not fear even the forces that lie unaccessed in the innermost depths of our souls.

A meeting of reptiles

The Egyptian riverside is infested with various different reptiles: snakes, crocodiles, alligators, etc, and sometimes they are interchangeable, as we saw in the two Torah portions that precede Parashat Bo when on one occasion Moses’ staff turned into a serpent (and even then, Moses fled from it) and on the second occasion, his staff became a tanin. In the Torah account of creation, Rashi also associates the “great reptiles” (???????????? ???????????) with the leviathan (?????????). By meditating on these different creatures, we can advance our understanding of Pharaoh’s power and why Moses feared it.

“On that day God will visit with His harsh and great and strong sword upon the leviathan lock-serpent and upon the leviathan warped-serpent and He shall kill the tanin in the ocean.” The “leviathan lock-serpent” is straight, like a lock that goes through one end and reaches the other, while the “leviathan warped-serpent” is curved around until its tail is in its mouth. This pair of reptiles is associated with the basic Kabbalistic pair of “circles” (???????) and “line” (????). The circles represent the world of nature which is a closed system that revolves in cycles and never introduces new energy, as dictated by the law of energy conservation.

Pharaoh, the great reptile, the “leviathan warped-serpent” of Egypt represents this cyclical form of natural philosophy. He worships the powers of nature and attempts to identify himself with them, claiming that “Mine is my river and I have made it.” Pharaoh believes only in God as Elokim (?????????), which has a gematria of 86, the value of “nature” (???????), but he is by no means prepared to acknowledge God’s Name Havayah and the fact that the Almighty can control nature as He wills it. Although Pharaoh’s perception is false, nonetheless, it is rooted in a very high spiritual level in which the Almighty appears to the world by power of the circle. Within the sefirot, this is the sefirah of crown, which surrounds the head like the circumference of a circle.

In contrast, Moses represents the line, which has a beginning and an end. Unlike a circle on which every point is identical, a line has a distinct beginning and end. Philosophically, a line is a scale that begins with one extreme and ends with another. The two extremes can represent good and evil, permitted or forbidden, holy or secular, pure or profane. In the world of a straight line, whether you are at the top of the line or at the bottom makes a big difference and it is here where freedom of choice comes into play.

The straight line within the natural world is the Torah, which was given via Moses. In the sefirot the straight line of Torah begins from wisdom and descends through all the sefirot. Moses is the “leviathan lock-serpent,” the initial line of Divine revelation that descends level by level and penetrates down into the very lowest levels of reality. At first, Moses was afraid of a head-on collision with Pharaoh, of being captured in the suffocating cyclic pattern of the “warped-serpent” but, accompanied by God’s own Divine assistance, Moses succeeded in infiltrating Pharaoh’s domain and penetrated the cyclic forces of nature with his straight line, until Pharaoh’s circular crown rested upon Moses’ upright head.

From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class 4th Shevat 5767



2 Responses to “The war of the reptiles”

  1. EdIsrael says:

    The warp serpent is often referred to as ‘the worm Ouroboros’ in European culture. It was worshipped in ancient Europe by pagans. Moses defeating the warped serpent , showing that Hashem was with him. My question is the phrase ‘come to Pharaoh is it implied that G-d is with Moses when he confronts Pharoah?

  2. EdIsrael says:

    Dear Rabbi Ginsburgh, Thanks for answering my questions. I have a lot of questions, but you have answered the most important ones. You are one of the few people in this world with a clear understanding of Kabbalah who can make it accessible to those who are trying to gain a greater knowledge of the subject. I will try to keep my whining to myself.