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Parshas Bo (5777)

Remember the Exodus!

I’m so old …
~ When I was born, the Dead Sea was still alive.
~ My blood type has been discontinued.
~ Bartenders check my pulse instead of my ID.
~ I have an autographed Bible.
~ The candles cost more than the birthday cake.
~ My birth certificate says "Expired" on it.
~ Last night I forgot the Alamo!

For those of you who didn’t get the last joke about the Alamo, a little background is in order. The Alamo is an old Spanish mission (like a church built by Catholic missionaries to minister to the natives) that is located in what is now San Antonio, Texas. The Alamo is most famous for the Battle of the Alamo, which took place during 1836. The mission was occupied by 187 men from Texas and around the world who were fighting for the independence of Texas from what was then Mexico. On March 6, 1836 the men in the Alamo were defeated by a force of 5,000 Mexican troops. All 187 men were killed, and "Remember the Alamo!" became the battle cry of the Texas Revolution.

Well, as it turns out, we Jews have a ‘battle cry’ of our own … “Remember the Exodus!” That’s right! There are many commandments in the Torah in which we recall our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt over 3300 years ago.

To properly understand why the Exodus is so central to Judaism and why we are commanded to recall it the many ways that we do, we need the help of Ramban (1195-1270), the outstanding rabbi, Bible commentator, kabbalist, and leader of his generation.

Ramban (Nachmanides), in his commentary to Exodus 13:16, discusses the unique importance of the Exodus, explaining why the Torah gives us so many commandments to commemorate that event. He ultimately expounds on the underlying purpose of all the commandments, and of Creation itself.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Ramban’s commentary here in Parshas Bo is one of the most important essays on Judaism ever written, as it contains within it the most fundamental teachings of the Torah. I am thus presenting Ramban’s holy words below (translated into English and elucidated with the help of the Artscroll Ramban), in the hope that they will deepen your understanding of Torah and Judaism in a major way:

“Now I shall tell you a general principle regarding the explanation of many commandments. Now, from the time idolatry came into being in the world … views regarding faith began to be corrupted by people. Some of them denied the fundamental belief in a Creator and said that the world is eternally ancient … And some of them deny G-d’s knowledge of the particulars of human events … And some of them admit to G-d’s knowledge of world events but deny His supervision of the affairs of man, i.e. G-d does not oversee them and there is no punishment or reward for them for their deeds.”

“However, when G-d favors a group or an individual and performs a miracle for them which defies nature, the negation of all these heretical views is made clear to all, for the supernatural miracle indicates that the world indeed has a G-d, Who originated it, knows all, and oversees all that occurs within it, and is all-powerful. And when that miracle is publicly declared beforehand through a prophet, the truth of the existence of prophecy is made clear by it as well … and with acknowledgement of this principle the entire Torah is sustained. [For then the Torah, which was transmitted to us by the prophet Moses, has the authority associated with being the authentic word of G-d.]”

“Scripture therefore states regarding the wonders in Egypt ‘so that you will know that I am G-d in the midst of the land’ (Exodus 8:18), indicating the idea of Divine Providence, for G-d did not abandon the land to random occurrences, as was the heretics’ view. And Scripture states further in connection with the plagues, ‘so that you shall know that the earth is G-d’s ‘ (ibid 9:29), to indicate the idea of the origination of the world by a Creator, for the earth and all its inhabitants are G-d’s by virtue of the fact that He created them from nothing. And it stated also in connection with the plagues ‘so that you shall know that there is none like Me in all the world’ (ibid 9:14), indicating the idea of G-d’s omnipotence, that He rules over all, and nothing can deter Him. These three declarations and the miraculous plagues that precipitated them, were needed because the Egyptians had denied or doubted all this. Accordingly, the great miracles and wonders in Egypt are trustworthy witnesses with regard to belief in the Creator and the entire Torah.”

“Now, because G-d does not perform a miracle in every generation in sight of every wicked person and unbeliever, He commanded us that we should constantly have a reminder of what our eyes saw in Egypt, and transmit the matter to our children, and our children to their children, until the last generation. And G-d was very stringent in this matter of remembering the Exodus [since it is critical in preserving true faith in G-d and His Torah] … And He commanded us [in the mitzvah of Tefillin] and required us to write and attach upon our arms and upon our heads between our eyes everything that was witnessed by us through the miracles and wonders in Egypt; and He required that we write it again in a ‘Mezuzah’ and place it at the entrances of the houses on the doorposts, and that we recall the Exodus orally every morning and evening … and that we remember the Exodus by making a Succah every year for the festival of Succos.”

“And also there are many other commandments similar to these that serve as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt. And all these commandments serve to be a testimony for us through all the generations regarding the miracles in Egypt, that they not be forgotten; and consequently there will be no credible argument for the heretic to deny the fundamental principles of faith in G-d, since those principles can be directly proven from the wonders of Egypt. For one who purchases a Mezuzah for a mere ‘zuz’ [small coin] and attaches it to his doorway and contemplates its import, has already acknowledged G-d’s origination of the world, the Creator’s knowledge of world affairs and His supervision thereof, and also the truth of prophecy, and he believes in all the foundations of the Torah; besides the fact that he has acknowledged that the Creator’s kindness toward those who perform His will is very great, for He took us out from that Egyptian bondage to freedom and great honor in the merit of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who desired to fear and serve Him.”

“Therefore, because a constant awareness of the principles of faith is the best fortification against heretical thoughts, the Sages stated: ‘Be as scrupulous in performing a minor commandment as in performing a major commandment …’ (Ethics of our Fathers 2:1), for all of them are in fact major and very beloved, since through them a person is constantly acknowledging his G-d. For the ultimate objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in our G-d and to acknowledge to Him that He created us."

“And that is in fact the ultimate objective of the Creation itself; for we have no other explanation for the original creation, and G-d has no desire from earthbound creatures except this, that man should know and acknowledge to his G-d that [G-d] created him. [Of course G-d doesn’t need man’s acknowledgement; rather, it is for man’s own benefit]. And the purpose of raising one’s voice in prayer, and the purpose of synagogues and the merit of communal prayer is this: that people should have a place where they can gather and acknowledge to G-d that He created them, and where they can publicize this and declare before Him, ‘We are Your creations!’…”

“Through remembering and acknowledging the great, open miracles of the Exodus a person ultimately acknowledges the ‘hidden miracles’ of everyday life, which are a foundation of the entire Torah. [Man reasons that if G-d can perform open miracles and defy nature, then He must also be the One Who maintains and directs nature behind the scenes through ‘hidden miracles’.] For a person has no share in the Torah of Moses our Teacher unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are miracles, that there is no element of nature in them at all … Rather, if one observes the commandments his reward will bring him success, and if he transgresses them his punishment will destroy him, all by the decree of G-d …”

[Sources: Ramban - Nachmanides Commentary on the Torah, Artscroll Mesorah Publications]

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