July 11, 2018
Rabbi Gershon Avtzon in #1126, Massei, Mattos-Massei, Parsha Thought


The second of two Torah portions that we will be reading this week entitled Massei-Journeys describes the 42 journeys of the Jewish people from their departure from Egypt until they reached the Jordan at Jericho.

Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (the great Sephardic Sage of the 18th century, known by the acronym of his name) points out that the initials of the opening words of the parsha: “Eileh Massei b’nei Yisroel-These are the journeys of the children of Israel” is an acronym for the four subsequent exiles of: Eileh Edom (Rome), MasseiMadai (Media/Persia), B’nei Bavel (Babylonia), and Yisroel – Yavan (Greece).

According to the Midrash (Yalkut Reuveni), had the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage behaved properly, and the Exodus from Egypt would have been complete, the Exodus from Egypt would have incorporated the liberation from all four subsequent exiles. In other words, there would never have been a need for the four exiles and their liberation.


In this vein, the Chassidic work Shem Mishmuel demonstrates that all four of these exiles were hinted in the Biblical account of the Egyptian bondage.

When the Torah describes the slave labor that involved making bricks in Egypt, it parallels the making of bricks by the generation of the Tower of Babel. In other words, making bricks is related to the Babylonian exile.

The Shem Mishmuel then draws a parallel between Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the boys to the Median-Persian exile where Haman’s plot was to annihilate all the Jews.

Shem Mishmuel then finds an allusion to the third exile of Greece in the words “and give life to all the girls.” This suggested that the Egyptians wanted to take liberties with and corrupt the morals of the Jewish females.

This parallels the Greek exile, where one of the prominent decrees against the Jews was the violating of Jewish women. The Talmud relates that many of the women gave their lives to prevent their degradation. One of the reasons given for women sharing the obligation of lighting the Chanukah lights (although they are generally exempted from time related commandments) is because they played a central role in the story of Chanukah by virtue of the threat to them and their self-sacrifice to resist.

The fourth and final exile of Edom-Rome or Western Civilization etc. according to Shem Mishmuel is hinted in Pharaoh’s decree to increase the burden of the Jewish people after Moses demanded their liberation.

According to the Midrash, the Jews were initially given a day of rest—on Shabbos—acceding to Moses’ plea to Pharaoh. However, after he asked Pharaoh to let the people go to serve G-d, Pharaoh withdrew their day of rest. As a result, the little respite and joy that breathed some measure of life into their souls was also taken from them.

In other words, this aspect of exile is a composite of all the others. Exile conditions since the destruction of the Second Temple was a continuous series of persecution. But to top it all off, the exile conditions the Jewish people had to endure also deprived us of our ability to have some measure of joy.


The fact that these four exiles are hinted in the words of this parsha that describe the journeys of the Jewish people out of Egyptian exile suggests that the emphasis here is not so much on these exiles per se but more so on the positive forces that generated the liberation from these exiles.

We may take this a step further.

The prophet declares that the Redemption from Egypt is the forerunner of all future Redemptions, including the Redemption from this final exile. It stands to reason that the four nations/exiles hinted in the Egyptian bondage narrative and here in this parsha, are four aspects of our Redemption. What ostensibly appears to be negative elements of exile actually allude to the positive forces that will get us out of exile.

In other words, the reference to Edom, Madai, Bavel and Yavan represent four dynamic forces that will propel us out of exile.


The first exile was the Babylonian exile. The first time Babylonia is discussed in the Torah refers to the attempt to build a tower of unity, subsequently named “the Tower of Bavel.” Underlying this attempt at unity was an insidious suggestion that the builders of the tower were independent of G-d. Their arrogance was their downfall.

Again we find that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar declared, “I will be like the Most High (Isaiah 14:14),” comparing himself to G-d.

Babylonian arrogance pitted itself directly against the idea of G-d’s exclusive sovereignty which was manifested in and through the Beis HaMikdash. Thus, the Babylonian Empire was responsible for the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash.

However, the Babylonian exile also possessed a positive seed which carries within it the force of liberation that relates to Babylonian brick-making.

The Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement) explains that while the exodus from Egypt was all G-d’s imitative, the liberation from the Babylonian exile was initiated by the Jewish people themselves. It was their heartfelt Teshuva (return to G-d) that brought about the end of the Babylonian Exile.

This explains the reference to bricks as a characteristic of the Babylonian exile. The difference between a rock and a brick is that a brick is man-made while a stone is a part of G-d’s natural world. While the Beis HaMikdash was built of stones exclusively, the Babylonian exile introduced a new spiritual dynamic of man-made initiatives of holiness.

The Babylonian Talmud is an example of the sweat and toil in creating spiritual “bricks.” The Talmud (particularly the Babylonian Talmud) is known for its intricacies and complexities. It is replete with probing questions and arguments on the path to discovering what is the Halacha; what is G-d’s will. G-d’s word in the Written Torah is expressed clearly. The Five Books of Moses were dictated by G-d verbatim to Moses. It can therefore be compared to the G-d made rock. The Oral Law, by contrast, particularly as it was preserved for us in the Babylonian Talmud, is comparable to the man-made brick, because it requires human intellect to navigate its winding pathways and searching for the light in the darkness.

When we focus on the Final Redemption, we must incorporate the “Babylonian-brick” dynamic by searching for the light of Moshiach in the darkness. We cannot just sit passively and wait for Moshiach to take us out of exile. It is crucial that we become “brick manufacturers” and “brick layers” in our preparations for Redemption.

It has been noted that the words of Isaiah (1:27), “Zion shall be redeemed with justice and those who return to her with righteousness,” share the numerical value of both Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. This suggests that one aspect of the Redemption is accomplished through employing the Talmudic method of groping through the darkness to find the light.


What is the positive aspect of the Median=Persian aspect of exile which involved the threat of annihilation?

The Jews responded to the threat of annihilation by remaining steadfastly loyal to their Jewish identity. Not one Jew entertained a thought of changing their religion to avert death. Mordechai’s Jewish pride that did not allow him to bow to Haman was embraced by all the Jews.

It is this self-sacrifice that was introduced through the Median-Persian exile that we must also incorporate into our efforts at welcoming Moshiach. Although we no longer have to consider the threat of extermination, thank G-d, we are bombarded with a myriad of other pressures to conceal or temper our Jewish identities. When we demonstrate our Jewish pride and we resist all pressures for us to conform to alien ideologies and practices, we will have unleashed the Median-Persian version of Redemption.


The way to incorporate the positive aspect of the Greek exile in which women suffered inordinately is to highlight the role of women in Judaism in general and in their role to bring the Redemption in particular.

Our Sages tell us that it is in the merit of the righteous women that we will be liberated from the final exile, the way the women were credited with the Exodus from Egypt.

However, the lesson from the Greek exile with respect to women relates specifically to the purity and modesty of Jewish women, particularly in today’s world of immodesty in clothing and behavior.


To harness the positive element of the fourth and final exile we must look for ways to instill joy into our lives. Simcha, the Hebrew word for joy, is etymologically related to the word Moshiach.

The Rebbe once commented that the one ingredient that we have not yet tried to bring the Redemption is pure, unadulterated simcha-joy. Joy has the power to break through all barriers, including the last vestige of a wall that separates us from exile and Redemption.

When we incorporate the four elements of simcha, feminine power, Jewish pride and strenuous efforts of preparation for the Geula, we will have successfully exited all aspects of exile and be totally prepared for the true and ultimate Redemption.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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