What a Jew Believes
Ramban in this Parsha has many classical comments, especially the last Ramban in the parsha which is a foundation of the fundamentals of the Torah, and I hope to spend some time on that with that. We will go over some well known ideas and hopefully add a few fascinating concepts as well, as they pertain to our ikarei haemunah.
1) “Ra’ah” The Evil Star of Blood
Pharaoh says a very famous line in response to Moshe’s requestt to take the Jews out to go serve Hashem on a little excursion in the Midbar. “Ki ra’ah neged pineichem” (Shemos 10:10). There is evil opposite your faces. Rashi makes two comments on this pasuk. One of them is he says, “K’Targumo,” like the Targum says. Ramban replies and says: I would love to know what the targum says as there is much confusion about his actual words and their interpretation. Secondly, Rashi states based on the Midrash Aggadah that Pharaoh was informing Moshe that my astrologers see the star of blood greeting you. Meaning, you will have blood and calamity befall you, perhaps during the Eigel. In the end, Hashem showed that this blood referred to dam pesach and dam milah! This is why Moshe later called out to Hashem and said: Please don’t destroy them over the Eigel as people will say “b’raah hotziam” that You took them out to destroy them according to that prediction of that evil star of ra’ah
Rei: Egyptian God
Before getting to the Ramban, there’s another p’shat which has been questioned by others, but it’s just an interesting idea. One of the Egyptian gods was named Rei, which may be what ‘Ra’ah’ is referring to. Pharaoh (whose name gives tribute to Rei) was threating that the Egyptian god would exact punishment.
Ramban: Targum to Explain “Ra’ah”
Ramban has different p’shatim, and it’s really fascinating when you see how Rishonim translate a pasuk differently. So one p’shat Ramban gives, based on the Targum, is “Riu ki ra’ah neged pineichem,” means: I could see on your faces the evil intentions that you have, which is to run away from Egypt. Another p’shat that the Ramban brings down based on a different girsa in the Targum. “Ra’ah negrd pineichem” means that your intent of running away is going to backfire. It’s not going to work. So, it’s going to turn you back, and it’s not going to work. The last p’shat, and again, a lot of them are really related, is “R’uy ki ra’ah neged pineichem” I could see that your inner desires is being expressed on your face, even though your words are saying otherwise
“Ra’ah” is Pharaoh’s Wrath
Ramban says al derecho hap’shat that Pharaoh was saying: You should know “ki ra’ah neged pineichem” that punishment is opposite your face, about to be seen immediately when you incur my wrath. Pharaoh was threatening them that you should know that I am about to hurt you guys for what you’re doing because when I see that you are actually running away, I’m going to stand up and retaliate. That’s how Ramban reads it: I will immediately retaliate, which is in fact what happened when the Jews did not return. The Egyptians pursued them, and, of course, got destroyed themselves.
2) Moshe Says to Pharaoh: I Won’t See You Ever Again!
“Lo osif od r’os panecha” (Shemos 10:29). In response to Pharoah’s demand that Moshe never see him again, Moshe replied to Pharaoh: ‘I’m not going to see you again’. There’s a machlokes rishonim whether Pharaoh ever saw Moshe again. The challenge is that after this posuk was uttered it seems that later Pharaoh pursued Moshe to tell him to leave Egypt with the nation. We all know the story and song of Pharaoh in pajamas in the middle of the night
Ramban says, a simple p’shat is that Moshe said: After I leave you’re never going to see me again. When Pharaoh told them to leave he was standing outside Moshe’s door and Moshe did not see him. Pharaoh screamed: Please get out! Get out before I die in this plague as well! Another p’shat is that he sent a shaliach, a messenger, to go find Moshe and Aharon and tell them to leave.
I Am Not Coming to You Again
Ramban says: wW don’t need any of these p’shatim because what Moshe was simply saying is that I’m not coming to see your face again. But, if you want to come see me because you want to beg us to leave, then you’re welcome to do that, which is ultimately what happened. I believe that the p’shat here is that Hashem was trying to show Pharaoh: I could break your haughtiness. You think you’re such a great nation and so strong and it’s all up to you. It’s not up to you at the least bit.
3) Counting Months From Yetziyas Mitzrayim
“HaChodesh hazeh lachem roch chadashim (Sheoms 12:2).” One of the first mitzvos that we find, which Rashi said that this should have been the first mitzvah or even where the Torah started from (first Rashi in Bereishis). Ramban explains that until this time the months were counted from Tishrei which is when the world was actually created, but at this point it was changed, and now all the months go after Nissan. Nissan is the month of geulah where Yitziyas Mitzrayim took place. We know that 15 Nissan was Pesach, and that was the day that Hashem took the Jews out. Ramban explains that Hashem changed the way we count the months to make Nisan first, to keep the focus on Yitziyas Mitzrayim. Even the dates of the year all revolve around Mitzrayim to remind us that Hashem took us out in the Chodesh HaRishon, the first month, and anytime we count a month we call it the second month, the third month, and the twelfth month, all counting back to Yitziyas Mitzrayim.
The yesod here is that we have to do things that remind us constantly that Hashem took us out of Egypt. This keeps us focused on what the purpose of life is: to recognize that Hashem took us out and took care of us and that therefore we have a responsibility as a nation how to serve Hashem.
Babylonian Redemption Changed This
Ramban says a very interesting thing which was that when the Jews left Bavel things changed and Chazal were established that the months would be called by the names that we know them by: Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, Tamuz which are all Babylonian names. (They have meaning as well. Bnei Yissasschar is very famous for explaining many of the meanings, etc.) These are the names that came from Bavel. Why the change? Because the pasuk says, “V’lo yomar od chai Hashem asher he’elah es Bnei Yisrael m’Eretz Mitzrayim.” They wanted to commemorate the yetzia m’Bavel, that Hashem saved the Jews and took them out of Bavel and took them out of that galus as well.
The pasuk in the Nach specifically explains that to a certain degree they won’t only talk about Hashem’s nissim that he did in Yitziyas Mitzrayim, which is represented by calling the month chodesh rishon and sheini and shlishi, but that it would be changed, and now the months would actually be commemorated with the Babylonian names to show that Hashem took out of that galus as well.
4) Shechting the Egyptian Lamb
It says that everyone should take one seh in their house, one sheep (Shemos 12:3). Ramban asks why the Jews were commanded to take a sheep? The mazel for the month of Nissan is t’leh, the sheep. Therefore, the sheep has its strongest power then, al pi derech hatevah, it’s the mazel of tzomeiach, of growth, and, therefore, Hashem specifically said: Shecht this t’leh and eat it to show that it’s not in the koach of the mazel that you’re going out, but it’s in My power that I’m taking you out.
Chazal teach us that the Egyptians worshipped the sheep, and again this was another statement of Hashem’s power. We don’t want any misunderstandings. Hashem is taking the Jews out of Mitzrayim and there’s no other power whatsoever which is the purpose of the lesson of Yitziyas Mitzrayim.
5) Death of Firstborns
There was no Egyptian house that didn’t have a dead person there (Shemos 12:30). All the Egyptians lost someone. During makas bechoros a lot of the rishonim and Chazal talk about who died. Did it affect a bechor from the father’s side and/or mother’s side? Ramban says al derech hap’shat the bechoros that died in Mitzrayim were the bechors peter rechem, the one that opened up their mother’s womb only. That’s why all the peter rechem of Bnei Yisrael were niskadeish and we have to redeem the firstborns as well.
Firstborn to Father
Chazal explain that even if the child was a bechor to the father only they also died, and, of course, Rashi brings down other p’shatim that the Egyptians were promiscuous, etc. But, according to this Chazal, why is it that only the firstborn from the mother is redeemed, but the firstborn of the father is not redeemed? Ramban explains that when a woman has a baby you always know that that’s the mother because she carried the baby for nine months, and, so, the Torah was only miskadeish the baby that was a vady, a factually known, but when it comes to the father, there’s no way of knowing for sure, and so, therefore, the Torah was not midkadeish that.
Women As Well?
There is a big machlokes even in the Midrash regarding exactly who died and if the last makah affected women as well. According to one Midrash it says that Basya bas Pharaoh was a bechorah, and she was spared because she saved Moshe and she converted. Other Midrashim say varying opinions. The question to ask is if this is so why is it that firstborn girls are not redeemed as well. There’s a whole discussion which is beyond the scope of this conversation.
6) Why Bnei Yisrael Merited Redemption
Ramban describes the state of the Jewish people in Mitzrayim (Shemos 12:42). It sounds similar to the state of the Jews in the Holocaust. He says: You should know that “Min hayadua”, it’s known that “Yisrael b’Mitzrayim” the Jews in Egypt, “raim v’chataim mi’od”. were very big sinners. “U’bitlu gam hamillah”. They were mevateil many mitzvos, including milah, and it wasn’t until they finally did teshuva and actually got the bris milah that Moshe said that now they were able to eat the korban Pesach and be redeemed. But, really they were not fit to be nisgaeil, redeemed, at the least bit. However, when they cried out to Hashem in pain, says the Ramban, when they turned to Hashem, they were redeemed and saved.
We see an amazing thing that even if someone is not worthy and doesn’t believe and isn’t acting appropriate, still Hashem turns to us when we turn to Him in prayer, Hashem turns to us and answers our tefillos.
7) Tefillin Lessons: Emunah Brought Home
Ramban elaborates on ikrei haemunah (Shemos 13:16) and it’s one of the most famous sections which I strongly encourage you to read it inside, to experiecne his beutiful ideas. I will summarize here. “L’totafos bein einecha.” Tefillin is a sign between your eyes. Ramban goes into the purpose of Yetziyas Mitzrayim, the lessons of Yetziyas Mitzrayim, and the foundations of the entire Torah. So, I’d like to share a number of thoughts based on this Ramban, and some that I will translate and paraphrase his words.
First he talks about that there are four parshiyos that are written in tefillin because the end of parshas Bo is the parsha of Kadeish and v’haya ki yiviacha, two of the parshios that are put into the tefillin. We know that we also have Shema and V’haya im shamoa. In the tefillin shel Rosh they are in four sections, and in the tefillin she yad they are all written together on one klaf. Ramban says that these parshios were specifically chosen because they have very, very specific meaning and they mention Yetziyas Mitzrayim, and they talk about the importance of wearing tefillin as an os to remind us of Yetziyas Mitzrayim.
There is a foundation for all of Yiddishkeit in these parshios and that is that they teach us the following. They teach us the yichud of Hashem, the unity of Hashem. They teach us to remember to fulfill all the mitzvos of Hashem. They teach us that there’s punishment for those that don’t follow the Torah, and that there’s reward for those who fulfill the Torah. They teach us every foundation of our emunah. If you go through that list if someone ever asks you: Can you please explain Judaism to me? These are the foundations. They are: Hashem’s unity – that Hashem exists and that He’s one and all powerful. Fulfilling the 613 mitzvos of the Torah. The recognition of sechar and onesh. There is reward and punishment. Everything we do Hashem rewards the good and Hashem punishes the bad.
Tefillin Represent Memory
Ramban continues and says that the Torah says to put the tefillin shel rosh, the head tefillin “l’zikaron bein einecha.” They should be a remembrance between your eyes. If you look at the way the tefillin are shaped and placed on the head, you put the front box of a shel rosh at the front of our head, but not bein einecha, between our two eyes, that’s not where we put it. The Tzadukim do that, but it’s not what Chazal tell us. It means that it goes on your head where your hairline ends, and you put it from there back. That’s where it goes, and says the Ramban there is where a person’s memory begins.
Ramban already knew neuroscience because neuroscience teaches us very fascinatingly that our short term memory, which processes what our eyes see very quickly and processes what our brain takes in, it’s a few seconds this memory, but it’s our short term, working memory actually takes place right there in the pre-frontal cortex which is exactly where the tefillin shel rosh is placed on top of our head. Not only that, the Ramban also says that that’s where the vision takes place which is also true that our vision takes place inside that prefrontal area of our brai.
Ramban continues and says that the straps wrap all the way down to the back of the shel Rosh, and they stop in the back of the navel of the neck, and that is where the long term memory is found. Ramban is ahead of his time once agaon. Our short term memory starts in the front, by the prefrontal cortex and it moves to the back, all the way down, and our memories get processed through our brain, moving back into our hippocampus which is located, basically right opposite the navel, and it’s very fascinating that precisely there is where we place the kesher, knot of the shel rosh. A kesher means a knot, but it also means, kesher shel kayama can mean something that is tied and kept in place. That’s hinting to long term memory. When we do repetitive acts, things get processed through our short term into our long term, and it becomes part of us. These repetitive acts done daily become part of our DNA in our essence of emunah and bitachon in Hashem. Ramban also explains that this is where our ikur neshama is located. In our hand and in our head. We’re subjugating our bodies and our souls to Hashem and striving to serve Him with our both fully.
8) Yetziyas Mitzrayim Lesson of Providence
Ramban concludes by saying: I will teach you a klal gadol, an important principle, when it comes to all the mitzvos. Some said that Hashem created the world and forgot about it. They started serving avodah zarah and saying that Hashem doesn’t care about the world, and why would Hashem care about us; we’re so insignificant, and the fish exist and man exists and there’s no din. There’s no dayan. Even if you say Hashem exists, what does He care about us?
Hashem wanted to show the Jews and the world that this was false. I exist, I watch over the world, I care and I punish and reward. Ultimately, I control everything. Hashem changes tevah to show that I care that you’re punishing my nation. You’re hurting them, and I’m going to step forward and bring the ten makos, and bring the punishments upon the Egyptians. This shows that Hashem not only exists, but is also watching over all the actions of man, and that man is significant.
Man likes to tell himself that he’s not significant, and who cares, I have no responsibility. No obligation. Yetziyas Mitzrayim teaches us that you are significant, and everything you do there’s a din, there’s a dayan. There’s sechar and there’s onesh. And, that’s the purpose of the Torah. We have so many mitzvos that keep teaching us this over and over again.
Hashem brought the makos, says the Ramban, through prophets: Moshe and Aharon. He warned Egypt about them ahead of time which is an even greater mofeis. It wasn’t just something that happened and was later explained, rather, it was something that was forewarned. This shows us how much providence there is, and how much Hashem is watching everything that is going on. That’s why it says in the pasuk, “L’ma’an teida ki Ani Hashem b’kerev ha’aretz.” I want you to know that I’m here and I’m watching. L’ma’an teidah ki laHashem ha’aretz. That Hashem created the world, and Hashem watches over the world, and Hashem punishes and rewards the world for everything that they do. Hashem is all powerful, and not limited by anything, and he could change the tevah as well. That’s what the Torah’s all about.
9) Pass On to Next Generation
Ramban continues: Hashem doesn’t have to prove himself to every rasha that denies Him. Thus, the Torah commanded us to remember yetziyas Mitzrayim. Hashem says: I did it once and you know it. We then pass it on from generation to generation, and a person doesn’t pass over lies to his son (Kuzari) Ein adam morish sheker l’banav. We teach our children life lessons according to our deepest truth. We pass it on from generation to generation. We write this truth on our houses, the mezuzah, about the story of Yetizyas Mitzrayim. We say it in davening: Emes v’yatziv and in Shema. We wear it in our tefillin and we commemorate it with the yamim tovim. Everything is zecher l’yitzyas Mitzrayim. All of these mitzvos are always just bringing in the emunah more and more, so that no kofer could ever deny Hashem. A person could buy a very, very cheap mezuzah, put it on his doorpost, and now he has connected to Hashem. That’s why it says a person should be zahir, should be careful with a mitzvah k’vimitzcah chamura. All of the Torah is dependent even on the smallest of all mitzvos like a mezuzah (Ramban).
Purpose of Creation
That’s the whole purpose of the creation of the world. Hashem created us: “she’ein lanu ta’am acheir b’yitzira rishona.” There’s no other reason that Hashem created us. “v’ein licha elyon v’tachtonim”, Hashem has no other reason for bringing His presence down here “bilvad zeh sheyeidah ha’adam v’yoideh Leilohav she’biraoh,” that Hashem should be recognized and acknowledged by his creatures. That is the whole point of why we do what we’re doing. We daven and we raise our voice in tefilla so that people could gather and inspire themselves and remind themselves (Ramban).
Ramban continues and says that from the nissim hagidolim, the great, well known nissim that Hashem does, this causes a person to notice the nissim hanistarim, the small, hidden miracles of providence that Hashem does every day which is the yesod of the entire Torah because our entire existence is all a neis.
Ramban’s famous words here that my rebbe, Rav Asher Zelig Rubenstein zt”l said everyone should know by heart. “She’ein l’adam cheilek b’Toras Moshe Rabbeinu”, a person has no portion in the Torah of Moshe “ad she’ya’amin”, until he believes “she’kol divreinu u’mikreinu” that all of our affairs and circumstance in life, “kulam nissim.” They are all miracles from Hashem. “Ein bahem teva u’minhago shel olam”, there’s no nature and way of the world “bein birabbim bein biyachid”, whether for groups of people or even individuals. “Elah, im ya’aseh hamitzvos yatzlichenu secharo”. If you do mitvos Hashem will reward you. “Im ya’avor aleihem”, but if you don’t “yachrisenu ansho”, the punishment will come. And, that is “hakol bigezeiras Elyon”. Everything that happens is from Hashem.
That is what the entire purpose of the Torah is: to see Hashem in all the things that happen. And, to recognize that Hashem is always ruling and running the world, and yetziyas Mitzrayim brings us home, and we remember it day in and day out (Ramban).
Sefer HaChinuch says: Adam nifa’al lifi peulosav, man becomes that which he behaves like. There are so many mitzvos that have to do with Yetziyas Mitzrayim (tefillin, mezuzah, yomim tovim and tens of mitzvos related to korbon pesach). It’s because you are what you do. If you act like you believe and you remember Hashem, then it will sink in eventually. And, every day we say Shema, at least twice a day, and we wear tefillin if we’re men. Every Jewish house has a mezuzah. We always remind ourselves that Hashem is the one who runs the world. Hashem is the one who runs every single thing. There’s nothing that could happen outside of Hashem’s Will, and there’s nothing that Hashem is not aware of. He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’ rest. He doesn’t get tired. He’s always watching over us, always caring for us, and always giving us the best life possible in this world and in the next world. If we could recognize that, that is the foundation of the entire Torah. You should all be zocheh to live our lives this way, and to recognize it and to connect to it and to be able to share it with our families and our loved ones, and all of the entire world.