REMEMBERING THE EXODUS 1-3

REMEMBERING THE EXODUS

 

Hakdama to Shaar HaEmunah & Shaar HaYichud
Introduction to The Gate of Faith & The Gate of Unity
By
The Holy Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch

Translated and Annotated by Shimon Markel
Edited by Rabbi A. Markel

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Chapter One

It is written,[1] “And Tzion said, Hashem has left me and Hashem has forgotten me.”  Now, at first glance, this is very astonishing. How is it applicable to say that there is an aspect of forgetfulness above in the living G-d, since HaShem, blessed be He, is above time, as indicated by the name of HaShem – “Was, Is and Will be – as One”,[2] whereas forgetfulness applies only when something comes into the bounds of time?  We therefore say,[3] “There is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your glory” or,[4] “He remembers all things forgotten etc.”

However, the explanation of the matter is that this forgetfulness is not in essence, but is rather only like the forgetfulness of the Jewish people, who are called, “The community of Israel”. However, their forgetfulness is astonishing too!  For, how is it possible for there to be a matter of forgetting HaShem in the community of Israel if there is an aspect of G-dly light which dwells within them?  As known, this is called the Divine Presence (Shechinah), which dwells within them even when they are in exile “in their impurities etc.”[5]

This refers to the G-dly spirit which gnaws within each and every Jew to return to HaShem with all his heart and to adhere to Torah and Mitzvot.  Though they may be overpowered by the yoke of earthly ways and deep preoccupation, which confuse the mind and heart completely, nevertheless, one who falls will not be cut off and fall completely, G-d forbid.  This is as stated,[6] “Many waters cannot extinguish the love.” – that even the many waters of preoccupation in earning a livelihood cannot extinguish the light of the great essential love of HaShem, which is rooted in our souls as a nature, as explained elsewhere.  This is because it literally is an aspect of G-dly light (that is called[7] “the spirit imprinted like wax etc.”). It is called the Indwelling Presence (Shechinah) within which there is no change or exchange.  This is as stated,[8] “I Hashem have not changed and you the children of Israel have not ceased.” That just as “I Hashem have not changed”, so too, the G-dly light which dwells within the children of Israel “has not ceased”.  Therefore, even when they are in exile “I have not despised them to destroy them by abrogating my covenant with them etc”. This being the case, how can the community of Israel fall into an aspect of forgetfulness?

Indeed we observe that even those who serve HaShem can completely forget about HaShem when they are very preoccupied in their occupation, until it can appear to a person that, “My strength and the power of my own hand accomplished all this greatness for me”[9]. Therefore, it is written,[10] “Guard yourself, lest you forget Hashem etc.”  This ailment especially applies to those who are successful in their endeavors, as known.

However, as known, the explanation of the matter is that there are two levels here: The first is a level that forgetfulness can fall into. This is because the matter of forgetfulness comes about mainly through the removal of the attention (Heseach HaDa’at) when one totally removes the attention of his mind and heart from the matter of G-dliness. Now, at first glance, this is not understood because of a seeming contradiction in the first and second paragraphs of the Shma recital. The first paragraph states,[11] “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul”, whereas the second paragraph states,[12] “You shall collect your grain”. In addition, the second paragraph also states, “To love Hashem and serve Him with all your hearts etc.”  However, if one falls into forgetfulness because of preoccupation with earning a livelihood, as in the verse “you shall collect your grain,” how then is it possible to actually fulfill one’s obligation to love HaShem with all one’s soul? It seems as if these two statements are at odds.

However, we must say that the aspect of forgetfulness only applies to something that comes into the realm of knowledge and awareness which is achieved through a thorough comprehension and understanding in the vessels of one’s mind and heart.  This is as stated,[13] “You shall know today and place it upon your heart that Hashem, He is G-d, in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is nothing else” or the verse[14] “You have been shown to know that HaShem, He is G-d, there is nothing besides Him etc.”  Knowledge (Da’at) is the aspect of strong recognition and feelings toward G-dliness in the vessels of the mind and heart.  This is as stated,[15] “Even an ox knows his master” – and is drawn toward him – “but Israel does not know, My folk do not contemplate etc.”

Now, on this level of knowledge[16] there may be change and exchange, which is the aforementioned matter of the removal of the attention (Heseach HaDa’at).  That is, his attention becomes moved and removed from its current position.  For instance, when a person becomes deeply preoccupied with something, he removes the attention of his mind and heart completely from his previous concern, such as learning Torah.  Even in regard to Torah learning itself, it states that[17] “because Rebbi was preoccupied in this tractate, he forgot what was written in that tractate etc.”  It is for this reason that we are commanded, “Guard yourself, lest you forget etc.”, which indicates that it is indeed possible for there to be forgetfulness of HaShem, which is the removal of our attention from Him. For this reason we were commanded to know, which is the opposite of forgetting.

In other words, we should always strive to[18] “know and pursue knowledge of HaShem etc,” and not remove the attention of our hearts from this G-dly knowledge for even a moment. This is as David said to Shlomo,[19] “Know the G-d of your father etc.”  This being the case, the positive commandment to know HaShem and the negative commandment not to forget Him[20] are all one, because they are interdependent.  By continually fulfilling the positive commandment to know HaShem one does not come to transgress the commandment not to forget, which is the removal of one’s attention. Obviously, transgressing the negative commandment not to forget Him is the direct consequence of not fulfilling the positive commandment to know Him. This is because forgetfulness is merely the outcome of the removal of the attention.

Moreover, due to forgetfulness a person will come to cast off the yoke of obedience to HaShem altogether and even transgress grave sins, as stated,[21] “Israel does not know, my folk do not contemplate. Woe to a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity.”  Now, At first glance this is a shocking statement!  How is it that because of a mere lack of knowledge (Da’at) and contemplation (Hitbonenut) they are called sinful and laden with iniquity?

However, it is because removal of one’s attention and recognition (which constitutes forgetfulness), brings about a complete casting off of the yoke. This is why we were warned, “Guard yourself lest you forget etc.” Therefore the prophet admonished the children of Israel[22], “Even an ox knows his master and a donkey recognizes his master’s trough, but Israel does not know, My folk do not contemplate”, the outcome of which is, “Woe to a sinful nation, a folk laden with iniquity etc.” In other words, falling into complete wickedness is merely the outcome of complete forgetfulness, which is the removal of the attention. This will suffice for the understanding.

Now, the second level[23] that exists in the community of Israel is much higher than the aspect of knowledge and comprehension of G-dliness grasped in the vessels of the mind and heart of each person according to his capacity.[24]  This is as written, “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your soul,” that is, with actual self-sacrifice which transcends knowledge and recognition and is equal in every Jewish soul, from the greatest to the smallest. This is the aspect of the G-dly light imbedded in the essence of the soul in its innermost essence.  This is called,[25] “The recesses of the heart” or “The essential point of the heart,” as known. It is from this essential power that every Jew is capable of self-sacrifice for the sanctification of HaShem’s name.

On this level the matter of forgetfulness does not apply altogether since here there is no change or exchange whatsoever, because this G-dly light radiates constantly in the essential point of the heart without cessation or change whatsoever.  As known, this is the aspect of the Yechidah of the soul.  Regarding this the community of Israel says,[26] “Place me as a seal upon your heart.” Just as the letters of a seal are engraved into it, so likewise, the essential light of the soul is engraved and imbedded in the heart.

In the words of the Zohar,[27] “Even though you wander here and there, My impression remains within you etc.” “Wandering here and there,” refers to the aspect of the mind and heart which become completely preoccupied in other matters until they fall into the category of the forgetfulness and removal of the attention, mentioned above.  Nonetheless, “My impression” – which is the aspect of the essential inner point of the heart, which is the essential point of the desire that even transcends the arousal of desire – “remains within you”.  This is because within aroused desires there can be changes and exchanges, such as preoccupation in earning a livelihood, whereas within the essential point of the heart at its ultimate depth, no change at all is applicable.  Rather, it always cleaves to its source in HaShem above. This is called the “Indwelling Presence” (Shechinah) within the souls of the Jewish people, as known. Regarding this it states,[28] “She hugs and cleaves to You”, in other words, “My impression remains within you like a seal etc.”

As known, this essential point of the soul becomes openly recognized when a Jew sacrifices himself for the sanctification of HaShem’s name or in true penitents such as Rabbi Elazar Ben Dordiya,[29] whose soul departed through weeping, and the like.  In this way we may now understand the matter of, “you shall collect your grain”, in that it does not at all contradict this light of the great love “with all your soul”. This will suffice for the understanding.

 

Chapter Two

This then, is the meaning of the above verse, “And Tzion said”. This refers to the aspect of the essential inner point of the heart, which is called[30], “Tzion the Excellent” (Tziyon HaMetzuyenet).  The verse continues, “Hashem has left me and Hashem has forgotten me” – which is said in a way of astonishment. In other words, how could it be that Hashem has left me? Certainly,[31] “Just as waters reflect the face to the face, so does the heart of man reflect to the heart of man.”

That is, even if there is forgetfulness in the community of Israel, because of the aforementioned aspect of G-dly knowledge which can sometimes fall into a state of forgetfulness and is generally called[32] “the falling Sukkah of David,” nonetheless, this only applies to the minds and hearts of the Jewish people, which are like a receptacle.  That is, due to deep preoccupation their minds and hearts become totally confused until they come to totally forget. This is the matter of the removal of attention mentioned above, wherein there can always be cessation and change.

However, from the aspect of the essential inner point of their hearts, there is no change or exchange whatsoever, since it is an aspect of actual G-dliness that is called, “The Indwelling Presence” (Shechinah) as mentioned above. Therefore, certainly “as waters reflect the face to the face”, above there also radiates from the aspect of the inner light and essential G-dliness that is called, “Encompassing all worlds” (Sovev Kol Almin), which is above the G-dly light enclothed within time and space, as known. There, the aspect of forgetfulness is altogether not applicable, as we say, “There is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your glory,” – this applies specifically “before” the throne of Your glory.  How then can it be that “Hashem has forgotten me?” Does the verse not state, “I Hashem have not changed” just like “you the children of Israel have not ceased?” Similarly it states, “I have not despised them to destroy them by abrogating my covenant with them” for the above mentioned reason.  This will suffice for the understanding.

Rather, the explanation must be that according to all of the above, the matter is not dependant only on the “waters that reflect a face to a face etc.”  For were that the case, then why is it that during the Egyptian exile the Jewish people were enslaved under the ultimate pressure and were not redeemed until G-d knew and felt their anguish?  This is as it states,[33] “And their cry went up etc, and G-d knew etc.”  He similarly said to Moshe,[34] “And I have also heard the cry of the children of Israel etc, and I have remembered my covenant etc.” This makes it sound as if for the entire duration of their difficult exile He did not remember them, yet how can there be forgetfulness before Him when He literally dwells with them in the aspect of their inner essence, which transcends the aspect of “knowledge” wherein it is not applicable for there to be an aspect of forgetfulness for the reason explained above?  Moreover, at that time the Jewish people only possessed this “essential bond” that transcends G-dly knowledge, for they did not yet know HaShem and his Torah until they subsequently received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Now, it is known that the Jewish people were only redeemed from Egypt specifically because of the power and merit of their simple faith.  This faith was rooted and imbedded in their souls solely as an inheritance from their forefathers. Regarding this it states,[35] “I have remembered for you the affection of your youth, how you followed me in the desert, in a land not sown.”  The “affection of your youth” refers specifically to the exile in Egypt, and it is this that is remembered with an eternal remembrance.  This aspect of remembrance transcends forgetfulness, and will never be forgotten.

The explanation of all of this, as known, is that there are two types of “knowledge” (Da’at).  There is the “upper knowledge” (Da’at Elyon), and there is “lower knowledge” (Da’at Tachton).  This is as stated,[36] “For Hashem is a G-d of knowledges” – in the plural.  The explanation of this is that these represent two types of influences.  The first is the coming into being from the G-dly nothing (Ayin) into the aspect of something (Yesh), wherein G-dliness becomes concealed.  This is the “lower knowledge,” which is according to the perception of the recipients of existence.

The “upper knowledge” however, is the aspect of the supernal light and influence as it is drawn from the essence of His being, before whom “all that exists is as nothing.”  In the “future to come” (l’Ateed lavo) this aspect of the Essence of G-dliness will be revealed as it is.  Regarding this it states,[37] “They all shall know me,” – quite literally,[38] “For the glory of Hashem Himself shall be revealed.”  Similarly it states,[39] “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Hashem,” – quite literally.  However, during the exile in Egypt, this was only in an aspect of simple but strong faith which they inherited from their forefathers.  It was because of this that they merited the revelations of the actual Essence of His being during the exodus (as will be explained at length in the discourse on the matzah and the splitting of the sea[40]).

This, then, is the meaning of “and G-d knew.”  That is, He knew in the “upper knowledge” as He is in His Glory and Essence, just as it will be in the “future to come”.  This is to say that He felt and knew their sufferings just as He knows and feels the aspect of the Essence of His being, literally.  This is like the verse,[41] “In all their afflictions, He was afflicted.”

In contrast, the aspect of the “lower knowledge” is the aspect of the G-dly knowledge and supervision, in that He knows and understands all the deeds of mankind. This is like the order of the chaining down and creation of the worlds to bring them into being from nothing to something, which is in a way of constriction (Tzimtzum) and concealment until it is possible for there to be external forces. This is like how during every exile He is in a state of concealment, as it states,[42] “I shall surely hide my face,” and as it states in the Zohar,[43] “During exile the Holy One Blessed is He withdraws far above etc.”  Similarly it states,[44] “I will go and return to my place etc,” for[45] “He grasps all the worlds, but there is no one that grasps Him,” and as the statement,[46] “He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place,” as known.

However, specifically by means of simple faith, because it is in an aspect of the essential innerness in which forgetfulness does not at all apply, we are able to arouse the corresponding aspect of the Essence of His being above, where there likewise is no change, even in the face of the accusing angels, G-d forbid.  This is as stated, “I have not despised them to destroy them by abrogating my covenant with them” and “you the children of Israel have not ceased,” as discussed above.  Therefore, He is pained by their sufferings just as a father feels the suffering of his child as his own pain, literally, as it states,[47] “In all their afflictions, He is afflicted.”

Such is not the case in the “lower knowledge”. Rather, it is as if it is outside of Himself, similar to the knowledge of the chaining down of the worlds, in which case the same verse may also be read, “In all their afflictions, He is not afflicted.”[48]  This is like the verse,[49] “He has made us and we are His” which can also be read, “He has made us, and not we.”  Similarly it states,[50] “Actions are accounted by Him” which can also be read, “Actions are of no account”.  For although[51] “His eyes are open to all the ways of man,” nevertheless, in this “lower knowledge” it is possible for there to be an aspect of forgetfulness and removal of attention. And it is regarding this that the community of Israel stated, “Hashem has left me and Hashem has forgotten me” – for they too had forgotten and left Hashem, as it states, “they have left Me.”

However, in the aspect of the inner point of the heart wherein the strong faith is truly imbedded like an essential nature, regarding this it states, “There is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your glory.”  It is for this reason that HaShem responded to Tzion,[52] “Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the child of her womb? These too may be forgotten, but I will not forget you”, for[53] “You are the children of Hashem your G-d.”  This will suffice for the understanding.

Now, because at the time of the Egyptian exile the Jewish people had this simple faith, therefore in the “future to come” they will merit to behold His essence and whatness, literally. At the giving of the Torah they merited a small foretaste of this as it states,[54] “And the entire nation saw etc,” (as will be explained[55] on the subject at length).  This, then, is the meaning of “I have remembered for you” – in the “future to come” – “the affection of your youth” – specifically their simple faith during the exodus, a faith that transcends knowledge and recognition in the mind and heart, as explained above. Therefore the children of Israel are commanded to remember the exodus from Egypt for all days.  This is as written,[56] “So that you remember the day you left the land of Egypt all the days of your life,” which even includes the days of Moshiach and the “world to come”, as is explained in the words of our sages of blessed memory.  The reason is because these two matters are interdependent. That is, just as from “above to below”, HaShem remembers in an aspect of a remembrance that has no change, so likewise, from “below to above” the Jewish people will even remember in the “world to come”, in which they will come to actually see, as it states,[57] “Here, this is our G-d”, in His presence, with no more changes whatsoever.  This will suffice for the understanding.

 

Chapter Three

We now must understand further regarding this remembrance of[58] “I have remembered the affection of your youth,” and that aside for their powerful faith in believing Moshe while they were still in Egypt, they also followed Hashem in the desert, in a land not sown, as written, “You followed me in the desert, in a land not sown.”

This may be understood through the famous parable of a father who has a small son who is very precious and dear to him and he wants to test him regarding two matters.  The first is in his wisdom and knowledge and the second is in the goodness and faithfulness of his heart, to see whether he is bound with true love to his father to the point of actual self-sacrifice.  Now, how shall he test him?  For, if the father is always in close proximity to his son and bestows his sons with all his heart’s desires, then it is no wonder that the heart of the son is faithful to his father in every way.  Therefore, the father conceals and distances himself from his son in a most hidden and concealed place, so that his son will be anguished and seek him out. Through this the father will discern the essential depth of his son’s love towards him.

Now, immediately upon the concealment of the father from the son, the son will be very anguished and pursue and seek out his father with all his strength.  In this we can see the inner heart of the son, in that he thoroughly seeks out his father.  However, after the son has searched for his father in all of the places and paths where he knows his father is regularly found and he nonetheless does not find him, it is certain that he will be agonized by this and will continuously bemoan the great loss of his father, who is the very light of his eyes and the life of his head. He will constantly weep in private from the depths of his soul and will inconsolable; until in his soul he despairs of ever seeing his father again. After having despaired, as time passes, the bitterness of his heart begins to cool, until slowly but surely he forgets and completely ceases searching out his father or weeping over it. We therefore find that the bond and connection of the son to his father eventually becomes severed completely.

Now, two things cause this. The first is the small attention (Da’at) of the child. He has a short attention span and does not understand or recognize that his father is just testing him or that the concealment in which he hides himself is not in essence, nor is the distance that he distanced himself true – that, in truth, he is destined to be close once again, because his father did not distance himself out of hatred, but only to test him and know what is in his heart.

The second is the despair of the child in that he gives up hope within his soul.  In this we see that his love is small and that his bond to his father was not that faithful, because if his bond was strong he would not fall into loss of hope altogether. A faithful son will strengthen his resolve and will seek out his father with all his might. Although his father is hidden and concealed from his eyes he will not fall into despair at all.  In his heart he knows that if his own love, faith and bond are strong, then certainly, as “waters reflect a face to the face,” then certainly, his father must only be concealing himself to test him.

This kind of son is wise and faithful with all of his heart. He understands that ultimately the concealment is not true. He therefore always searches for his father on all the paths he knows his father frequents.  Even if he does not find him, he does not weep or despair in his soul. On the contrary, he constantly seeks him out with all his heart, searching in all of his father’s ways and paths.  He follows the footsteps of his father and on the paths that his father travels and in all the places that his father is regularly found, and even if he does not find his father in any of his paths, he nonetheless rejoices in his soul and is confident that since he is traveling the paths of his father he will certainly find him.  At times, perhaps he will glimpse his father off in the distance, and then he will follow behind him and attach himself to him.  Although he may not see the face of his father from up close, he will nevertheless follow from behind and at a distance, and will rejoice as if he saw him up close and face to face.  Since he knows that these are the paths of his father, he will strengthen himself in pursuit of him even if he only sees him from behind.

Now, when the father sees the strength of effort of the son to seek him out in his paths, even if only to behold him from behind and that he does not ever despair, he discerns the great strength of his son’s bond and faith – that he pursues him even in the thick of darkness, even when he cannot see his father’s face or see him at all. Nevertheless, he pursues him with all of his strength and might.  This arouses the great love of the father to his son in a double and quadrupled measure compared to how it was at first, until he cannot no longer contain himself and reveals himself from his hiding place and shows his son the radiance of his countenance and the inner depths of his heart with great love that cannot be contained within his vessels, to the point that he kisses him with multiple kisses.  This is like a father who plays with his precious son and kisses him with multiple kisses, because a single kiss is simply not enough. He kisses him again and again because of his great and abundant love.  In this case, the love he had for his dear son already was in his heart, but when he hid himself he distanced and concealed the light of this great love so as not to reveal it.

Now, because of this restraint, after he sees the strong bond of the faithful son in the test that he tested him and he sees that his heart is faithful and that he seeks him out with all his heart, even when he is concealed from him, as discussed above, then when the father finally reveals his face, he becomes aroused with a great love toward his son to a much greater measure than before, so that he kisses him with a double measure.  This is because the light of his great love was doubled and quadrupled from its original condition prior to distancing himself from his son.  This is because the great love that is now revealed after the test of “distance and concealment” comes from the inner essence and depth of his heart, much more than when his son was always with him.

This is to say that it is specifically the concealment and distance that brought out the faith of the son in his father with greater strength, to a greater degree than when they were together.  The same thing applies to the father’s feelings toward his son; the distance itself brings about additional love for his son in a double measure, when he subsequently reveals the light of his countenance to his son, after the son has shown the faithfulness of his heart.  This is because of the above mentioned reason and is specifically called “doubled kisses” (Nesheekeen Kfulim).  This will suffice for the understanding.

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