Shemos - Redeeming the Ten Utterances of Creation
Though some of the ideas in this article are my own, many were inspired by the beautiful teaching of the Shvilei Pinchas. Have a beautiful Shabbos,
וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַבָּאִ֖ים מִצְרָ֑יְמָה אֵ֣ת יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵית֖וֹ בָּֽאוּ
"And these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt; with Jacob, each man and his household came:" (Shemos 1:1)
The Ba’al HaTurim remarks that when you examine this passuk the words are the roshei teivos: "V’adam asher lomed haseder shnayim mikra v’echad targum b’kol naim yashir, yichyeh shanim rabos aruchim l’olam" (“And the person who learns the weekly parsha shnayim mikra v’echad targum in a sweet straight voice will live many long years."
The Levush (Orach Chaim 285, 1) and Pri Megadim (ad loc Mishbetzos Zahav 1) similarly find references to the Mitzvah of shnayim mikra v’echad targum albheit with slight variations. The beginning of the passuk could be understood as “V’chayev Adam likros (or lehashleem) haparsha shnayim mikra v’echad targum”, and the passuk concludes with “v’zeh chayavim kol Bnei Yisrael”.
The Chida (Chomas Anoch beginning of Parshas Shemos, brought in Toras HaChida to Parshas Shemos, 8) says that this Roshei Teivos can be found in the Rabbeinu Ephraim (early Talmudic commentator) and it is also found in the Medrash Rebbi David HaNaggid (grandson of the Rambam).
Many do not realize that there is a weekly obligation to recite the weekly Torah portion twice along with the Targum. In fact this halacha was codified by the Rambam (Hilchos Tefilla 13:25) and both the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 285, 1). The Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. 2) teaches that this Mitzvah was actually a takanna of Moshe Rabbeinu himself.
The obvious question is, why do we specifically find a reference to this Mitzvah now in the beginning of Sefer Shemos?
Talking Too Much Or Too Little
When it comes to the story of our exodus in Egypt, we find an unusual emphasis on the topic of speech. In general, our Sages tell us that one should shy away from speaking.
שִׁמְעוֹן בְּנוֹ אוֹמֵר, כָּל יָמַי גָּדַלְתִּי בֵין הַחֲכָמִים, וְלֹא מָצָאתִי לַגּוּף טוֹב אֶלָּא שְׁתִיקָה. וְלֹא הַמִּדְרָשׁ הוּא הָעִקָּר, אֶלָּא הַמַּעֲשֶׂה. וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה דְבָרִים, מֵבִיא חֵטְא
"Shimon, his son, says, "All my days I grew up among the Sages, and I did not find anything better for the body except silence. And the exposition [of Torah] is not what is essential, but the action. And whoever increases words brings sin." (Avos 1:17)
רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר. סְיָג לַחָכְמָה, שְׁתִיקָה
"Rabbi Akiva says: A safeguarding fence around wisdom is silence." (Avos 3:13)
אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי מִלָּה בְּסֶלַע וּמִשְׁתּוֹקָא בִּשְׁתַּיִם
"Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi taught: a single word is worth a sela (coin), but silence is worth two." (Vayikra Rabbah 16:5)
These are just some of the many examples that one can find in Chazal regarding the virtue of minimizing our speech. Yet when it comes to the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim we find that the opposite is true.
The Gemara in Pesachim (36a) tells us that one of the reasons Matzah is referred to as lechem oni (literally bread of affliction) is because it lechem sheonin alav devarim harbei, bread upon which we answer many things.
The Arizal (Pri Eitz Chaim Shaar Mikra Kodesh 4) says that the word Pesach is actually a conjunction of the words Peh Sach, the mouth that speaks.
Even the word Haggada means the telling!
In responding to the four questions of the children at the Seder we say: “We were Slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…and there is a mitzvah incumbent upon each of us to discuss and tell of the redemption from Egypt.” “Vchol Hamarbeh lesaper b’yetziat mitzrayim — harei zeh meshubach….” — “All who say much in their description of the redemption from Egypt are to be praised….”
In the Hagada of the Rambam we find a slight variation on this line. “Vchol Hamaarich — lesaper b’yetziat mitzrayim, harei zeh meshubach….” — “All who speak extensively in their description of the redemption from Egypt are to be praised….”
The great Chasidic Master, Rebbe Moshe Yechiel HaLevi Epstein of Ozarov, zy"a, points out that the Torah almost always refers to the leader of Mitzrayim as Pharaoh and not as Melech Mitzrayim. Pharaoh means Peh Rah, a wicked mouth. Clearly, on the night of the Seder we are meant to counteract the wicked speech of Pharoah. The Zohar (Parshas Bo 2:125b) teaches that not only was Klal Yisrael in Golus in Mitzrayim but dibbur itself (the power of speech) was in exile. This would explain the passuk in Shemos (6:9) tells us that, "Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because of [their] shortness of breath and because of [their] hard labor." Because speech itself was in golus, Moshe did not have the capacity to communicate to Klal Yisrael in a way that could reach them. Additionally, Moshe as the leader of Klal Yisrael was a reflection of the nation. Is it any wonder that Moshe described himself as not being a man of words, "heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue." (Shemos 4:10)
And so we must ask ourselves, if Chazal were so clear about the value of silence, why is it that on Pesach specifically we are encouraged to speak as much as possible? One would think that in order to rectify the power of speech perhaps we should even take a vow of silence? At the very least we should act in accordance with the dictums of Chazal and speak as little as possible. Why specifically now are we being tasked with extensive speech?
Speaking Creation Into Existence
God did not create the world by snapping his fingers but rather He spoke it into existence.
בַּעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם. וּמַה תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר, וַהֲלֹא בְמַאֲמָר אֶחָד יָכוֹל לְהִבָּרְאוֹת, אֶלָּא לְהִפָּרַע מִן הָרְשָׁעִים שֶׁמְּאַבְּדִין אֶת הָעוֹלָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בַעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת, וְלִתֵּן שָׂכָר טוֹב לַצַּדִּיקִים שֶׁמְּקַיְּמִין אֶת הָעוֹלָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בַעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת
"With ten utterances the world was created. And what does this teach, for surely it could have been created with one utterance? But this was so in order to punish the wicked who destroy the world that was created with ten utterances, And to give a good reward to the righteous who maintain the world that was created with ten utterances." (Avos 5:1 - see also Megillah 21b, Avos D'Rebbe Nosson 31b)
What is the value in speaking the world into existence? Why doesn't God "think" the world into existence?
We find a similar emphasis on speech when it comes to the creation of man.
וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה
"And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul." (Bereishis 2:7)
Targum Onkelos translates Nefesh Chaya, a living soul, as “leruach memallela – a speaking creature.”
Why is the very essence of our life being defined by our capacity to speak?
In truth, the world did not begin with a word but with a thought. In Chassidic literature we find that the Torah begins with the letter beis (and not the letter aleph) to indicate that our world is actually the second part of a process. Initially God conceived of the world and only afterwards did He speak it into existence.
When a person thinks, the thought remains within themselves. When a person shares that thought with another through the vehicle of speech, the thought can then become a part of someone else. Thinking is internally focused. Speaking is externally focused.
To put this idea into the context of creation, the initial point of creation is contained within God Himself (thoughts are internal) and then only afterwards did God share his thoughts with another by creating the world (speech is external).
And so the value of speech is that it is focused on another. When God created the world he did so in such a fashion that the world experiences itself as other than God. This feeling of selfhood is a product of God speaking the world into existence.
This is in line with the Ramchal's vision as to why God created the world. The Ramchal writes in Derech Hashem: "God's purpose in creation was to bestow of His good to another..." In other words, God created the notion of otherness so that He could bestow His goodness to another. In order for us to experience ourselves as truly other than God it would be insufficient for God to think the world into existence. As products of God's thoughts we would always feel as if we are one with God. Only through the medium of speech can we experience an independent identity.
This explains why the defining characteristic of mankind is our ability speak. Speech gives us the capacity to act as God does. Were we only to have the capacity to think we would be alone in this world. Incapable of connecting with others. Just as God spoke our world into existence and shares his essence with another so too the spoken word allows us share our innermost thoughts and connect with the world around us.
Destroying the Ten Utterances of Creation
Before someone builds a home they hire an architect to draw up blueprints. The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (1:1) tells us that before Hashem created the world He had a blueprint which he followed.
דָּבָר אַחֵר אָמוֹן, אֻמָּן. הַתּוֹרָה אוֹמֶרֶת אֲנִי הָיִיתִי כְּלִי אֻמְנוּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בְּנֹהַג שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם מֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם בּוֹנֶה פָּלָטִין, אֵינוֹ בּוֹנֶה אוֹתָהּ מִדַּעַת עַצְמוֹ אֶלָּא מִדַּעַת אֻמָּן, וְהָאֻמָּן אֵינוֹ בּוֹנֶה אוֹתָהּ מִדַּעַת עַצְמוֹ אֶלָּא דִּפְתְּרָאוֹת וּפִנְקְסָאוֹת יֵשׁ לוֹ, לָדַעַת הֵיאךְ הוּא עוֹשֶׂה חֲדָרִים, הֵיאךְ הוּא עוֹשֶׂה פִּשְׁפְּשִׁין. כָּךְ הָיָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַבִּיט בַּתּוֹרָה וּבוֹרֵא אֶת הָעוֹלָם, וְהַתּוֹרָה אָמְרָה בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים. וְאֵין רֵאשִׁית אֶלָּא תּוֹרָה, הֵיאַךְ מָה דְּאַתְּ אָמַר (משלי ח, כב): ה' קָנָנִי רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ.
Alternatively, amon means "artisan." The Torah is saying, "I was the artisan's tool of Hashem." In the way of the world, a king of flesh and blood who builds a castle does not do so from his own knowledge, but rather from the knowledge of an architect, and the architect does not build it from his own knowledge, but rather he has scrolls and books in order to know how to make rooms and doorways. So too Hashem gazed into the Torah and created the world. Similarly the Torah says, "Through the reishis Hashem created [the heavens and the earth]," and reishis means Torah, as in "Hashem made me [the Torah] the beginning (reishis) of His way" (Mishlei 8:22).
The ten utterances with which Hashem created the world were not ten random statements but were drawn from the blueprint of the Torah. In other words, well before the Torah was given at Har Sinai it existed in our world. Just as an architect could look at a house and understand the blueprints from which it was created, so too our Avos were able to look at the world around them and understand the Torah.
This explains the well known Gemara in Yoma (28b) which says:
אמר רב קיים אברהם אבינו כל התורה כולה שנאמר (בראשית כו, ה) עקב אשר שמע אברהם בקולי
Rav said: Abraham our Patriarch fulfilled the entire Torah before it was given, as it is stated: “Because [ekev] Abraham hearkened to My voice and kept My charge, My mitzvot, My statutes and My Torahs” (Genesis 26:5).
Avraham Avinu was able to fulfill the entire Torah even before it was given at Har Sinai because he was able to look at the world around him and reconstruct the initial blueprint of creation.
During the times of the Dor HaMabul and the Dor Haflagah , as a result of their immoral behavior, the ten utterances of creation were shattered and the nitzotzos of those words fell into Mitzrayim.
As we will see there are many similarities between Mitzrayim and the Dor HaMabul/Dor Haflagah.
Regarding the Dor HaMabul the Torah tells us:
וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְהִנֵּ֣ה נִשְׁחָ֑תָה כִּֽי־הִשְׁחִ֧ית כָּל־בָּשָׂ֛ר אֶת־דַּרְכּ֖וֹ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ
"And God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth." (Bereishis 6:12)
What does it mean that all flesh had corrupted its ways on the earth?
כי השחית כל בשר: אפילו בהמה חיה ועוף נזקקין לשאינן מינן
for all flesh had corrupted: Even cattle, beasts, and fowl would mate with those who were not of their own species. — [from Tan. Noach 12]
Just as there was immoral behavior in the times of the Mabul, we find that Mitzrayim is also identified with similar immoral behavior.
כְּמַֽעֲשֵׂ֧ה אֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַ֛יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּ֖הּ לֹ֣א תַֽעֲשׂ֑וּ...
"Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do..." (Vayikra 18:3)
(See also Rambam Hilchos Isurei Biah 21:8 who elaborates on the specific nature of the immoral practices of the Egyptians.)
Additionally we find that when Yosef accuses his brothers of spying on Mitzrayim he accuses them of coming to see the "nakedness" of the land. (Bereishis 42:9)
There are many similarities between the Dor HaMabul/Dor Haflagah and the Jews in Egypt.
Just as the Dor HaMabul was eradicated by the waters of the flood so too were the first born male Jewish babies drowned in the Nile River.
Regarding the Dor Haflagah the passuk tells us:
וַיֹּֽאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֗הוּ הָ֚בָה נִלְבְּנָ֣ה לְבֵנִ֔ים וְנִשְׂרְפָ֖ה לִשְׂרֵפָ֑ה וַתְּהִ֨י לָהֶ֤ם הַלְּבֵנָה֙ לְאָ֔בֶן וְהַ֣חֵמָ֔ר הָיָ֥ה לָהֶ֖ם לַחֹֽמֶר
"And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly"; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar." (Bereishis 11:3)
Just as in the Dor Haflagah they made bricks to build the Tower of Bavel so too in Mitzrayim the Jews were similarly tasked to build Pitom and Ramses as the passuk says:
וַיְמָֽרֲר֨וּ אֶת־חַיֵּיהֶ֜ם בַּֽעֲבֹדָ֣ה קָשָׁ֗ה בְּחֹ֨מֶר֙ וּבִלְבֵנִ֔ים וּבְכָל־עֲבֹדָ֖ה בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה אֵ֚ת כָּל־עֲבֹ֣דָתָ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־עָֽבְד֥וּ בָהֶ֖ם בְּפָֽרֶךְ
"And they embittered their lives with hard labor, with clay and with bricks and with all kinds of labor in the fields, all their work that they worked with them with back breaking labor." (Shemos 1:14)
The connection between the Dor HaMabul and Mitzrayim accounts for the many connections that we find between Moshe and Noach.
The Medrash (Devarim Rabbah 11:3) records a conversation between Noach and Moshe Rabbeinu:
“Noah said to Moshe: ‘I am greater than you because I was delivered from the generation of the Flood.’
Moshe replied: ‘I am superior to you. You saved yourself but you had no strength to deliver your generation; but I saved both myself and my generation when they were condemned to destruction at the time of the Golden Calf.’ Whence this? ‘And the Lord repented (vayinachem) of the evil which He said He would do to His people’ (Shemos 32:14)....”
On the pasuk: "Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself" (Bereishis 9:20), Chazal comment (Bereishit Rabbah 37:3):
R. Berechya said: Moshe is more favored then Noach. Noach, after being called, "A righteous man" – was later called, "man of the earth." Moshe, after being called, "An Egyptian man" – was later called, "man of G-d."
The Arizal in Sha’ar Hagilgulim (as well as the Medrash Yelamdeynu and Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer) says that Moshe is a gilgul of Noach.
Furthermore, the Arizal (Likutei Torah; Parshat Ki Tisa) writes on the pasuk, "Erase me now" (Shemos 32:32) as follows: Know that Noach was similar to Moshe, yet he did not pray for his generation. That is why Yeshaya says: "For [like] the waters of Noach (mei Noach) this shall be to Me." (Yeshaya 54:9) He caused the flood, and therefore it was named after him. However, Moshe said: "Erase me (mecheini) now." The letters mecheina can be rearranged to spell mei noach. Moshe was willing to forego his entire portion of olam haba in order to save Klal Yisrael and in this way he rectified Noach. (see also Kedushas Levi on Parshas Noach)
The Gemara in Chulin (139b) teaches: "Where is [there an allusion to] Moshe Rabbeinu in the Torah? Hashem said: My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning Man since ('beshagam') he is but flesh; his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." Beshagam and Moshe share the same gematria of 345. Additionally we know that Moshe lived for one hundred and twenty years.
Both Noach and Moshe were saved from the water in a Teivah. Regarding Noach it says, "Cover it inside and out with pitch" (6:14), whereas regarding Moshe it says, "She smeared it with clay and pitch." (Shemot 2:3)
Regarding Noach the passuk says:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ לְנֹ֔חַ בֹּֽא־אַתָּ֥ה וְכָל־בֵּֽיתְךָ֖ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֑ה כִּי־אֹֽתְךָ֥ רָאִ֛יתִי צַדִּ֥יק לְפָנַ֖י בַּדּ֥וֹר הַזֶּֽה:
"And the Lord said to Noah, "Come into the ark, you and all your household, for it is you that I have seen as a righteous man before Me in this generation." (Bereishis 7:1)
The gematria of the word hazeh is seventeen, since there were seventeen generations from Noach until Moshe (ten generations until Avraham, and seven generations until Moshe).
Both Noach and Moshe are connected to the number forty.
Regarding Noach the passuk says:
וַיְהִ֥י הַגֶּ֖שֶׁם עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים י֔וֹם וְאַרְבָּעִ֖ים לָֽיְלָה
"And the rain was upon the earth for forty days and forty nights." (Bereishis 7:12)
Regarding Moshe the passuk says:
וַיְהִי־שָׁ֣ם עִם־יְהֹוָ֗ה אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יוֹם֙ וְאַרְבָּעִ֣ים לַ֔יְלָה לֶ֚חֶם לֹ֣א אָכַ֔ל וּמַ֖יִם לֹ֣א שָׁתָ֑ה וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֗ת אֵ֚ת דִּבְרֵ֣י הַבְּרִ֔ית עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים
"He was there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water, and He inscribed upon the tablets the words of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments." (Shemos 34:28)
Following times of great distress both Noach and Moshe made covenants with Hashem.
After the flood Hashem said to Noach:
וַֽהֲקִֽמֹתִ֤י אֶת־בְּרִיתִי֙ אִתְּכֶ֔ם וְלֹֽא־יִכָּרֵ֧ת כָּל־בָּשָׂ֛ר ע֖וֹד מִמֵּ֣י הַמַּבּ֑וּל וְלֹא־יִֽהְיֶ֥ה ע֛וֹד מַבּ֖וּל לְשַׁחֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ
"And I will establish My covenant with you, and never again will all flesh be cut off by the flood waters, and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth." (Bereishis 9:11)
After the sin of the golden calf Hashem said to Moshe:
וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הִנֵּ֣ה אָנֹכִי֘ כֹּרֵ֣ת בְּרִית֒ נֶ֤גֶד כָּל־עַמְּךָ֙ אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֣ה נִפְלָאֹ֔ת אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹֽא־נִבְרְא֥וּ בְכָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ וּבְכָל־הַגּוֹיִ֑ם וְרָאָ֣ה כָל־הָ֠עָ֠ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֨ה בְקִרְבּ֜וֹ אֶת־מַֽעֲשֵׂ֤ה יְהֹוָה֙ כִּֽי־נוֹרָ֣א ה֔וּא אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י עֹשֶׂ֥ה עִמָּֽךְ
And He said: "Behold! I will form a covenant; in the presence of all your people, I will make distinctions such as have not been created upon all the earth and among all the nations, and all the people in whose midst you are shall see the work of the Lord how awe inspiring it is that which I will perform with you. (Shemos 34:10)
The Gemara in Zevachim (116a) tells us that when the Torah was being given the voice of Hashem could be heard throughout the entire world. Terrified, the kings of the gentile nations of the world ran to Bilaam and asked if Hashem was sending another flood to destroy the world. Bilaam assured them that God had already promised that he would not destroy the world with a flood. The kings were not calmed by Bilaam's assurances and asked again, perhaps he will not destroy the world with a flood of water but with a flood of fire. Biaalm successfully calmed them down by explaining that Hashem has a good and precious item in His treasury, that was hidden away with Him for 974 generations before the world was created, and He seeks to give it to his children, as it is stated: “The Lord will give strength to His people” (Psalms 29:11). “Strength” is a reference to the Torah, which is the strength of the Jewish people. Immediately, they all began to say: “The Lord will bless His people with peace” (Psalms 29:11).
This Gemara needs to examined carefully. Why were the kings concerned that God would bring another flood? What exactly is a "flood of fire"? What is the inner connection between the flood and the giving of the Torah?
The Torah was meant to be given to the generation of Noach but they were unworthy of receiving this precious gift. The Torah is compared to fire and water. The Mishna in Sanhedrin (10:1) explains that one who does not believe that the Torah is from shomayim does not have a portion in the world to come. Rashi in Bereishis (1:8) explains that shomayim is a mixture of eish (fire) and mayim (water). As the Torah descends from shomayim it too is comprised of fire and water. Thus we find that the Torah was given with both fire and water.
"All of Mount Sinai was smoking because God descended upon it in fire" (Shemos 19:18).
The passuk in Shoftim (5:4,5) tells us, "Lord, when You emerged from Se'ir, when You marched out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, also the heavens dripped; also the clouds dripped water. The mountains melted from before the Lord, even Sinai, before the Lord God of Israel."
In fact the Torah itself is compared to fire and water.
Regarding our obligation to read frm the Torah every Monday and Thursday the Gemara in Babba Kamma (82a) explains that when the passuk says "and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water” (Shemos 15:22) water is a reference to Torah. Since the Jews traveled for three days without hearing any Torah they became weary, and therefore the prophets among them arose and instituted for them that they should read from the Torah each Shabbos, and pause on Sunday, and read again on Monday, and pause on Tuesday and Wednesday, and read again on Thursday, and pause on Friday night, so they would not tarry three days without hearing the Torah.
The Gemara in Berachos (61b) records a conversation between Papos ben Yehuda and Rav Akiva. Rav Akiva continued teaching Torah in public despite the edict of the Romans forbidding him to do so. Papos ben Yehuda asked Rav Akiva, are you not afraid of the Roman Empire?
Rav Akiva answered him with a parable. To what can this be compared? It is like a fox walking along a riverbank when he sees fish gathering and fleeing from place to place. The fox said to them: From what are you fleeing? They said to him: We are fleeing from the nets that people cast upon us. He said to them: Do you wish to come up onto dry land, and we will reside together just as my ancestors resided with your ancestors? The fish said to him: You are the one of whom they say, he is the cleverest of animals? You are not clever; you are a fool. If we are afraid in the water, our natural habitat which gives us life, then in a habitat that causes our death, all the more so. The moral is: So too, we Jews, now that we sit and engage in Torah study, about which it is written: “For that is your life, and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20), we fear the empire to this extent; if we proceed to sit idle from its study, as its abandonment is the habitat that causes our death, all the more so will we fear the empire.
In Avos D'Rebbe (Chapter 6) we find that Rav Akiva began his journey towards studying Torah by comparing it to water.
What were the beginnings of Rabbi Akiva? It is said: When he was forty years of age, he had not yet studied anything. One day he stood at the mouth of the well. “Who hollowed out this stone?” he wondered. They said to him: “The water that falls on it every day.” They said to him: “Akiva, have you not read, Stones, worn away by water (Job 14:19)? Immediately, Rabbi Akiva drew an inference [kal v’chomer] with regard to himself: if what is soft carves out the hard, all the more shall the words of Torah, which are as hard as iron, hollow out my heart, which is flesh and blood. Immediately, he returned to study Torah.
The Medrash Rabbah (1, 19) on Shir HaShirim states:
The Torah has been compared to water; just as we find water all over the earth's surface, so do we find the Torah.
Water will never cease from this globe, neither will God's laws cease.
Water comes from the heavens, and the Torah came from heaven.
Water cleanses impurities, and God's laws do the same.
Water coming down by drops can form a river, and so the Torah: if a man acquires Torah bit by bit he may eventually become a great scholar. A man of distinction will not think it beneath his dignity to ask for water from the meanest individual, neither is any one too great to despise instruction from the most insignificant person, and ask him: teach me one chapter, one saying, one verse, even just one letter.
One may drown in water if one cannot swim; so, unless one possesses a thorough knowledge of the Torah and all its meanings, one may be drowned in it.”
"He said: "The Lord came from Sinai and shone forth from Seir to them; He appeared from Mount Paran and came with some of the holy myriads; from His right hand was a fiery Law for them." (Devarim 33:2)
The Yerushalmi in Shekalim (6:1 49d) teaches: "Reish Lakish said: The Torah given to Moses was written with black fire upon white fire, sealed with fire, and swathed with bands of fire.
The Gemara in Berachos 22a teaches: "'Is not My word like fire, says God' – just as fire cannot become impure, so the words of Torah cannot become impure."
With this in mind we can readily understand the concerns of the kings of the nations of the world. When the Dor HaMabul was not worthy of receiving the vessel of the Torah the essence of the Torah (in this instance water) came down and flooded the world. Had they been worthy of receiving the Torah, the water would have been contained within the vessel of the Torah sparing them from destruction. Perhaps this is what the Gemara in Yoma (72b) means when it says that, "Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: What is the meaning of the verse that states, 'This is the Torah which Moshe placed (sam) before Bnei Yisrael…'? If a person is worthy, the Torah is the elixir (sam) of life for him; if he is not worthy, then for him it is a potion (sam) of death."
When the kings heard the voice of God throughout the world they understood that this was what had happened in the times of the flood and ran to Bilaam. Bilaam assured them that Hashem had already promised the world that they would not be destroyed through a flood of water but the kings still had good reason to be concerned. As we explained Torah is comprised of both fire and water. Though the inner essence of the Torah in its water form would not flood the world, without a vessel to receive this divine energy the world could still be consumed in a flood of fire! Bilaam therefore assuaged their concerns that the world would not be destroyed because this time Klal Yisrael would be receiving the Torah. In giving us the Torah, Hashem gave us a vessel capable of containing the fire and water than inhere within the Torah.
With all of this in mind we can understand why Klal Yisrael needed to go into Golus in Mitzrayim. The Maggid of Mezeritch explains that we went down to Mitzrayim in order to receive the Torah that was there. The ten utterances of creation (which expressed the blueprint of the Torah) had been shattered during the times of the Dor HaMabul and had fallen into Mitzrayim. As the gilgul of Noach, Moshe was tasked with retrieving those sparks and receiving the Torah.
The Bnei Yissaschar (Nissan (5:13) explains that this is why in the Haggada we reference the giving of the Torah as we say Baruch HaMakom Baruch Hu Baruch Shenasan Torah LiAmo Yisrael. In order to receive the Torah we had to go down to Mitzrayim to gather the fallen shards of the Torah.
And just as there four leshanos geula we have four levels of understanding the Torah (pshat, remez, drush and sod).
Gathering the Sparks of the Oral Torah
Because it was the ten utterances that we went to Mitzrayim to retrieve, it is understood that the Torah that we would find there is the Torah SheBaal Paeeh, the Oral Torah. (see Sefas Emes Pesach 5639) The Sefas Emes (Pesach 5632 and 5655) goes so far as to say that “our entire descent into Mitzrayim and the geulah was to rectify our power of speech, which had become corrupted.”
וַיָּ֨סַר פַּרְעֹ֤ה אֶת־טַבַּעְתּוֹ֙ מֵעַ֣ל יָד֔וֹ וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אֹתָ֖הּ עַל־יַ֣ד יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיַּלְבֵּ֤שׁ אֹתוֹ֙ בִּגְדֵי־שֵׁ֔שׁ וַיָּ֛שֶׂם רְבִ֥ד הַזָּהָ֖ב עַל־צַוָּארֽוֹ: וַיַּרְכֵּ֣ב אֹת֗וֹ בְּמִרְכֶּ֤בֶת הַמִּשְׁנֶה֙ אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ לְפָנָ֖יו אַבְרֵ֑ךְ וְנָת֣וֹן אֹת֔וֹ עַ֖ל כָּל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם:
"And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph's hand, and he attired him [with] raiment of fine linen, and he placed the golden chain around his neck. And he had him ride in his chariot of second rank, and they called out before him, "[This is] the king's patron," appointing him over the entire land of Egypt." (Bereishis 41:42,43)
The Ohev Yisrael explains that בִּגְדֵי־שֵׁ֔שׁ, fine linens, are a reference to the six sedarim of Mishnayos. Yosef rides in the בְּמִרְכֶּ֤בֶת הַמִּשְׁנֶה֙, chariot of second rank, which indicates that Yosef himself had become a merkava of the Mishnayos (Oral Torah). Yosef is even called by Pharaoh, Tzafnas Paneach, a revealer of secrets (41:45) because the Oral Torah reveals the hidden secrets of the Torah Shebichvas, the written Torah.
Indeed the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3) teaches we will be redeemed from exile only by virtue of the study of Mishnayos.
With this in mind we can understand why Yehuda was sent down to Goshen to set up a Yeshiva before Klal Yisrael descended to Mitzrayim.
לפניו: קודם שיגיע לשם. ומדרש אגדה להורות לפניו לתקן לו בית תלמוד שמשם תצא הוראה
him: [Lit., ahead of him.] Before he would arrive there. The Aggadic interpretation of [לְהוֹרֹת] is [that there should be teaching]: to establish for him a house of study, from which teaching would emanate.
What does the word horaa mean? On a literal level it simply means teaching. The Gemara in Berachos (5a) explains that the word lihorosom specifically refers to Gemara. Perhaps we can suggest that Yaakov sent Yehuda down to Goshen to specifically set up a Yeshiva that would study Torah SheBaal Peh because it was the Oral Torah that we would be retrieving in Mitzrayim.
Regarding the passuk in Yeshayah (1:27) which says, צִיּ֖וֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּ֣ט תִּפָּדֶ֑ה וְשָׁבֶ֖יהָ בִּצְדָקָֽה, Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through righteousness, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt"l points out that צִיּ֖וֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּ֣ט תִּפָּדֶ֑ה is the same gematria as Talmud Yerushalmi (1076) and וְשָׁבֶ֖יהָ בִּצְדָקָֽה is the same gematria as Talmud Bavli (524).
The Ropshitzer zy"a (Zera Kodesh, Bo) explains that Mishnayos begins with the letter Mem (the open Mem of Meieimasai) and finishes with the letter Mem (the closed Mem of the word Shalom). Mitzrayim also begins with an open Mem and ends with a closed Mem and in the middle is the word Yetzer. Mitzrayim is the Yetzer that turns us away from the Torah SheBaal Peh! It is our job to retrieve the nitzotzos of the Oral Torah from Mitzrayim.
(Parenthetically, I just heard a wonderful idea from HaRav Ahron Pessin shlit"a. The Torah ends with the letter lamed and Mishnayos begins with the letter Mem. In truth the first Mishna in Berachos could have simply asked eimasai, when do we recite Kerias Shema at night. By writing Meieimasai, from when, with the letter Mem, Rav Yehuda HaNasi was ensuring that we would see the Torah SheBaal Peh as a continuation of the written Torah - Mem follows Lamed in the Aleph Beis.)
The Megalah Amukos points out that both Eretz Yisrael and the Mitzrayim are four hundred parsah by four hundred parsah (regarding Eretz Yisrael see Megillah 3a and Baba Kamma 82b and regarding Mitzrayim see Taanis 10a). The Shelah HaKadosh explains that the secret of Eretz Yisrael is Torah SheBaal Peh. It therefore makes sense that Mitzrayim, where the Torah SheBaal Peh was in exile, would share the same measurements as Eretz Yisrael.
In discussing the method with which one should learn Torah SheBaal Peh the Gemara in Eiruvin (54b) tells the story of Rav Preida who would teach one particular student four hundred times before the student would understand. In fact, the Chasam Sofer says that the letters of the word Talmud can be rearranged to spell Limud Taf (Taf is the Gematria of 400).
We can now understand why Hashem tells Avraham that his children would be enslaved in Mitzrayim for four hundred years (Bereishis 15:13). After four hundred years in Mitzrayim we would be capable of bringing out the Torah SheBaal Peh.
It is now understandable why in Mitzrayim there were ten Makkos. Each Makka in Mitzrayim revealed one of the initial ten utterances of creation that were trapped in Mitzrayim. Once Klal Yisrael aggregated the nitzotzos of the Torah in Mitzrayim we were capable of receiving the aseres hadibros which also reflected the initial ten utterances of creation.
A Torah With Targum
With all of the above in mind it is now clear why the beginning of Shemos has a hidden reference to the Mitzvah of shanyim mikrah viechad targum.
The Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaAvodah Ch. 13), expounding the significance of shnayim mikra, explains that it is meant as a weekly commemoration of the giving of the Torah, which was first given over to Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai, repeated over at the Ohel Moed, and a third time at Arvos Moav. At Arvos Moav the Torah was explained in 70 languages to ensure that each person understood the Torah in his own language. At the time, the language most of Klal Yisrael spoke then was Targum. Therefore, the enactment of shnayim mikra v’echad targum, as the targum is meant to serve as a ‘Biur HaTorah’.
Our descent into the Golus of Mitzrayim was not only to receive the Torah but to redeem the power of speech which was exiled there. Speech in this context is not merely our capacity to communicate to one another but to expound upon the Torah Shebichsav. By reading the Targum we connect to the inital asarah maamaros of creation, to the communication of Hashem, and to the very reason we were created in the first place.