January 31, 2019
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1152, Mishpatim, Parsha Thought


The very first subject discussed in this week’s parsha (which comes on the heels of the parsha that describes the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and points to its centrality) concerns a Hebrew servant who is about to go free after serving his six-year term of indentured servitude.

The Torah states:

“If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself…”

In the Midrashic genre known as Midrash Peliah-Enigmatic Midrash, we find the following cryptic comment:

“When G-d said, ‘If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself,’ the ministering angels said before the Holy One blessed is He, ‘Why did you command to erase the memory of Amalek? And if you shall say that it was justified, why then did Adam have relations with all the animals, beasts and fowl? And if you say it was justified, why then did you command to bring Bikkurim-First fruits.”

What is the connection between a Hebrew servant leaving his master single and Amalek, Adam’s bizarre behavior and the bringing of Bikkurim?


It has been pointed out that the gematria of Eved Ivri-Hebrew servant is 358, the same numerical value as the word Moshiach. Moshiach, of course, is the ultimate servant of G-d.

The Baal Shem Tov taught us that every Jew possesses a spark of Moshiach. Our challenge is to fan this spark into a blazing flame.

And this is what the Torah means when it says, “If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself.” The concept of marriage, according to the teachings of Chassidus, is the union of the soul and the body. To get out of Galus we must keep that union intact.

There are some who believe in crushing the body to strengthen the soul. This approach was common in the pre-Chassidic era, especially amongst those steeped in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah.

Why did the Kabbalists favor ascetic practices?


Kabbalah is a discipline that is inherently beyond the grasp of the human mind. How, then, does one study a subject that is outside the realm of comprehension?

The answer is that the term “study” has to be used advisedly when we discuss Kabbalah. When we write a profound idea on paper with a pen in our hand, our hand and the pen are not receptive to the ideas we have written; they are only a conduit enabling the ideas to pass through us and onto paper. Similarly, when a Kabbalist studied Kabbalah, it was with his soul, not his mind; the mind is no more than another conduit permitting the flow of knowledge to the soul, where it was absorbed from a higher world. A person out of touch with his soul could not possibly access the knowledge of Kabbalah. Therefore, the Kabbalists had to divest themselves of their bodily interests so that their souls should shine.

We can regard this approach of the Kabbalists as the unmarried approach, where the emphasis is on elevating the soul and suppressing the body. There is no marriage here, and no union between them.

The Baal Shem Tov, although steeped in Kabbalah, changed course. The Baal Shem Tov, and especially the Rebbes and leaders of Chabad, emphasized the need to work with the body. The body is not an enemy that has to be shunned, the Baal Shem Tov stressed. We must instead create a harmonious relationship between the body and the soul.

Some think that the Baal Shem Tov realized that it was asking too much from seekers to continue the custom of the Kabbalists to shun their bodies. They believe he relaxed that demand and “allowed” us to maintain a wholesome physical existence.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Baal Shem Tov’s emphasis on the union between body and soul is actually a catalyst for moving on to a more advanced spiritual level. It prepares us for the Messianic Age, when the physical and spiritual will mirror each other. Moreover, as that Age arrives, Moshiach will reveal the G-dly source of the body and its physicality, a source that is actually higher than the source of the soul.

Moreover, as discussed in last week’s essay, the objective of Creation, which will become manifest in the Messianic Age, is to transform the physical world and make it receptive to and a dwelling place for G-d. That being so, without us engaging our bodies and the physical world, there would be no reason for the soul to be here in the first place. So, as we get closer to the Messianic Age, our focus must be on translating the most mystical and spiritual knowledge into our consciousness in ways that they relate to our entire beings. From our intellect, by way of our emotions, into the way we live our physical lives, the deepest spiritual and G-dly light must permeate our entire being.


We can now interpret the idea of Moshiach coming by himself, and going out by himself as it applies to our personal Redemption through uncovering the spark of Moshiach hidden within us.

If we try to ignite the spark of Moshiach, the deepest and most sublime aspect of our soul, by being single, we will leave exile single.

If we ignore the role of the physical in the pursuit of Redemption, then we will surely be redeemed but only our soul will be redeemed; our bodies will remain attached to Galus. The process of Redemption will be left incomplete.

However, if we endeavor to reveal the spark of Moshiach in us while in a state of marriage, i.e., the soul in complete concert with our body, then we will leave exile with both our soul and body intact; both realizing their full potential.


We can now find a connection to the challenge of the angels, who have no idea of the importance and holiness of the body: “Why did you command to erase the memory of Amalek?”

One of Amalek’s evil actions was opposition to the Mitzvah of circumcision (See Rashi on Deuteronomy 25:18). Hence, the angels asked, if being single, i.e., serving G-d with our soul without inclusion of the body is not the way to get out of exile, then Amalek’s aversion to circumcision was not without some merit. After all, circumcision seems to de-emphasize the role of the body. First and foremost, it physically removes a part of the body, which prompted many of the nations to ban circumcision because they felt it was an affront to the integrity of the body.

Second, according to Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed, circumcision was intended to lessen physical desire.

So the angels sensed a contradiction. If the goal of bringing Moshiach is to integrate the soul with the body, why would Amalek, the obstacle to Moshiach, be so reviled for its opposition to circumcision? Why is he considered to be an obstacle if he opposed doing something that minimizes the body?


The answer is obvious. While the path to Moshiach requires that we respect the integrity of the body, the body is not to be worshipped, nor should we follow blindly all of its desires. Only when the body becomes receptive to the needs of the soul by removing those aspects of the body that cannot be refined and elevated, such as the foreskin removed during circumcision, can the body be elevated and worthy of Redemption.

The angels then continued: “And if you shall say that it was justified, then why did Adam have relations with all the animals, beasts and fowl?”

This Midrashic tradition that suggests Adam cohabitated with all the creatures is interpreted to mean that Adam looked for a mate before G-d fashioned Eve. The symbolic imagery here is that Adam was content with a relationship with the body that was animalistic. Adam’s actions demonstrated that even a relationship with that aspect of the physical world which cannot be elevated was not necessarily negative.

The angels asked, didn’t this show that any type of liaison with a partner that takes a person out of the status of being single, that literally any engagement with the body is acceptable?

The answer to their argument is that Adam demonstrated, by a process of elimination, that relationships that focus solely on the animal aspect of the body are unwholesome. Only when he was united with Eve did Adam experience a wholesome union. He had to learn this lesson the hard way.


Finally, the angels posed one last challenge: “And if you say it was justified, why then did you command to bring Bikkurim-First Fruits.”

The angels still didn’t get it. They could not fathom why G-d wants us to give Him our first and choice fruits and bring them to the Beis HaMikdash, the most spiritual place on Earth. Moreover, the time for bringing these fruits was around the Festival of Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Why would that spiritual occasion and spiritual location be partnered with a rather mundane activity?

The angels could understand the idea of an animal sacrifice as a metaphor for the elevation of our internal animal, bringing it closer to its spiritual source. Indeed, the spiritual sources of animals and animal souls are the angels themselves; they are known as celestial or spiritual animals because, like animals, they are programmed to follow their instincts to love and be in awe of G-d.

But why give G-d one’s first and choice fruits? Why would G-d want something so physical if it doesn’t reflect a spiritual dynamic? It seems that G-d cherishes the physical in and of itself.

Angels could come as close to understanding physical aspects of our devotion to G-d as long as they are a means to express spiritual emotions. But, they cannot fathom why G-d imputes intrinsic value to the physical world.

The truth is, as stated above, that the physical world in general and the body in particular has intrinsic value. It is rooted in an even higher level of the Divine than the soul and the spiritual realms. While this is not readily apparent to us now, it will become a manifest reality in the future Redemption.

To awaken the Moshiach spark within us and progress out of exile, we must harness the body and the soul as partners. To get out of Galus completely we must achieve total harmony between the body and soul!

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