WHO’S WHO IN EXILE?
January 4, 2018
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1100, Parsha Thought, Shmos

MOSES CHOSEN AT THE BURNING BUSH

This week’s parsha introduces us to Moses, the “first redeemer” of the Jewish people. Moses serves as the paradigm for the final redeemer of the Jewish people—Moshiach.

Moses’ selection as redeemer occurs at the scene of the “burning bush,” which the Torah identifies as a thornbush.

Rashi, the principal Torah commentator—whose stated purpose is to provide us with the most basic level of understanding of the Biblical text—explains that G-d chose the thornbush as His venue of communication to Moses so as to express His empathy for the plight of the oppressed Jewish people. Rashi applies a verse from Psalms to this situation: “I am with him in distress.” This is to say that when we are in distress, G-d, as it were, also experiences “pain” and “anguish.”

Why, we may ask, was it important for G-d to express His pain to Moses? Wasn’t it enough for Moses to know the pain of his brethren? If Moses were insensitive to the plight of the Jewish people, why would he respond to the more abstract notion of Divine suffering?

TWO SCENARIOS OR REASONS FOR THE NEED, AND OUR DESIRE, FOR MOSHIACH

One explanation can be offered in light of a commentary given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to one of our Sabbath prayers:

“Satisfy us with your goodness, and gladden our souls with your salvation.”

The Rebbe explains that there are two scenarios or reasons for the need, and our desire, for Moshiach:

The first is for Moshiach to end the misery and pain we suffer in exile.

The second reason is to liberate G-d Himself from exile.

The Talmud and Zohar refer to the phenomenon of G-d being in exile with us as “shechinta b’galusa.” This implies that even if all of the suffering of the Jewish people—and, indeed, the entire world—ceased, and even if universal peace and prosperity prevail, we would still need Moshiach to “liberate” G-d from His state of exile.

And thus the Sabbath prayer is reinterpreted by the Rebbe:

“Satisfy us with Your goodness” – Get rid of all the suffering and pain, so that our souls will be gladdened with Your salvation; that You, G-d, will also be liberated!

ANALOGY FROM OUR RELATIONSHIPS

To better understand the Rebbe’s interpretation of the prayer, it is important that we define the concept of “shechinta b’galusa.” What exactly does it mean for G-d to be in exile?

To illustrate this concept using down-to-earth human terms, a simple analogy from human relationships can be helpful:

If you were to stand next to another person and address him or her, but that person totally ignored you, and did not even acknowledge your presence—that would be an incredible insult and a downright painful experience. This demonstrates that there is a huge gap between the two of you, notwithstanding that person’s close physical proximity to you.

The insult, and the concomitant emotional pain it causes, is magnified when the snub comes from a friend or relative. The pain increases when you realize how much you did for that individual. The worst-case scenario would be for a parent—who gave his or her life and limb for their child—to receive the silent treatment from their offspring.

TRUE REALITY TAKING A BACK SEAT TO AN ILLUSORY VIEW OF REALITY

This is precisely what happens in our world.

We live in a world whose very existence depends on G-d creating and sustaining it continuously. Yet, we do not appreciate G-d’s role in our lives, or even worse, we ignore His role. This is the equivalent of being shunned by our own children, loved ones and friends. And this is the definition of G-d being in exile.

The root of the problem is that we view the world and nature as independent entities rather than manifestations of G-d’s creative energy. G-d can then be said to be in exile, defined as being cast away from one’s true home. When G-d does not enter our consciousness, He has, for all intents and purposes, been alienated from our world.

Certainly, when we see a world in which injustice prevails, where the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, and where some people can even deny G-d’s existence, then we know that G-d is in exile.

If we had to give one definition of what it means for G-d to be in exile—in all of its forms—we would define it thus:

G-d—the essence of truth and reality—is in exile anytime true reality takes a back seat to an illusory view of reality.

In the first scenario of exile, our view of G-d is obscured by our suffering; in the second scenario, G-d is concealed because we see the world through tinted and tainted spectacles.

Thus, the Rebbe explains, we pray to G-d, “Satisfy us with our needs from Your goodness.” In other words, remove our exile conditions by giving us everything we need. When that happens, our pleas for Moshiach and Redemption will rise to a higher and more sophisticated level. Our desire for Moshiach will no longer be predicated on the need to escape suffering, but will be for G-d’s sake. Hence, the second part of the prayer: “And gladden our hearts from Your salvation.” The words, “your salvation,” the Rebbe explains, refer to G-d’s own salvation. Our joy will come from the realization that G-d is no longer in exile and that we will know and feel the true reality.

With this introduction, we can better understand why G-d wanted Moses to know that He too was in distress. The primary reason for Moses’ selection as Israel’s redeemer was to liberate them from Egyptian bondage. The A-mighty also wanted Moses to understand the underlying rationale for his role as redeemer existed in a deeper, spiritual dimension. G-d too was in exile. The fact that there can be pain and suffering in this world is an expression of G-d’s concealed state. If G-d’s glory were to be fully manifested in this physical world, pain and suffering, evil and cruelty, would cease.

At the time of the Exodus, the focus was on relieving the people’s physical suffering. However, at the same time, the process for removing the “veil” that allows pain, suffering and injustice to exist in the first place was being set into motion.

First, G-d appears to Moses in the burning thornbush as a symbol of G-d’s empathetic pain. The secret to remove the physical manifestations of exile is to recognize that exile also has a spiritual dimension. Our challenge today is to focus our energies on dealing with removal of exile from the spiritual level.

Second, G-d reveals to Moses the key to removing the spiritual form of exile.

G-d says:

“When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain.”

This, of course, refers to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the purpose of which was to reveal G-dliness to the world, and pave the way for the ultimate Redemption. Equipped with knowledge of Torah, and the implementation of its dictates in our daily lives, we peel back—layer by layer—all the obstructions that obscure our clear view of G-dly reality.

We are living in historic times. Never before have the Jewish people been so free and prosperous throughout the world. This does not mean that there are no serious problems but, relative to the rest of our history, we live in unprecedented good times.

It is precisely in these times that we can comfortably say: “You have satisfied us with Your goodness!” So now we can truly appreciate the second part of the prayer: “Gladden our hearts with Your salvation.”

G-d, for Your own sake, bring Moshiach and end this exile in all of its incarnations and manifestations!

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