I remember being a music director at WMUC, in Maryland. I was in college and record labels would send in their music with one sheets (accompanying pages with an elevator pitch), hoping their songs would make it into our radio station’s rotation. I saw one album named Pharaoh’s Daughter that caught my attention. It was released by Michael Dorf under his Jewish imprint via the Knitting Factory club(s) that he owned, which I first heard of because of the hip hop group The Roots and then more by some of the incredible New York free-jazz musicians I followed. I ended up performing at the Knitting Factory a bunch and befriending Michael Dorf, but while in college, it was just a place I heard of. I opened the Pharaoh’s Daughter CD and saw it was composed by Basya Schechter and was curious to hear what sort of music would come via this hipster jazz club. It was a mix of Sephardic and Ashkenazic tones, but in such an original way, some stripped down, others more fully composed, but all with the heart of Basya throughout.
Music has the power to remind us of our roots, the ancient lineage that we continuously emerge from, the antiquity of the art that surrounds the historic memories that inform our traditions. When I hear beautiful Jewish music, it hits my soul in a different way than when I hear an equally incredible composition from, say, Bon Iver. Jewish music is what I imagine was played in the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple), and the lyrics are generally inspired by passages from the Torah. What comes from the heart enters the heart, and nothing resonates more than the truth. Torah is truth and synonymous with water, because both water and Torah give us life. Music steeped in Torah brings life because that is the well that it’s drawn from.
In our parashah, Pharaoh’s daughter pulls Moshe from the water to save him, bringing redemption to an entire nation on the brink of destruction. She named him Moshe, meaning “the one who was drawn from the water.” The gematria (numerical value) of Moshe (משה) is 345, which represents redemption. Reb Natan of Breslov teaches that Moshe elevates the Jews from ShMaD, destruction (Shmad, שמד), which is 344, to RatZON (Divine favor, רצון), which is 346.1 Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, was also transformed from idolatry to favor by converting, as it says in Talmud Sotah, “She went to cleanse herself of her father’s idolatry”.2
Perhaps the most incredible part of our exodus and redemption is that it is brought on by Moshe, who grew up in the house of our oppressor, who did not fall into the falsities and niceties that one would tend to grow accustomed to growing up as a son to the King. One would think our redemption would come through the person who is as far physically as one could get from the King, but Abarbanel points out that the murder of the Egyptian, the quarrel of the two Israelites, and the rescue of Yitro’s daughters are mentioned right after we are told that Moshe grew up in Pharaoh’s house to teach us of Moshe’s spiritual greatness. Ibn Ezra argues that, “Perhaps Hashem caused Moshe to grow up in a royal palace, so that his soul would be on a high level of study and behavior, rather than the low expectations of a slave. Had things been otherwise, would Moshe have killed the Egyptian for his violent act, or saved Yitro’s daughters from being harassed by the shepherds of Midian who were stealing their water? Had Moshe grown up amongst his brethren and been familiar to them from his youth, they would not have revered him, for they would have considered him one of them.”
The same way we feel the music of our past, Moshe felt and knew that he was not an Egyptian. Despite his upbringing and surroundings, he knew he was a Hebrew, an Israelite. Moshe had an attachment to Yocheved (his nursemaid) and her children. He later found out he was her son and that her children were his siblings. As the saying goes, the truth always comes out in the end. It was then that, “Moshe grew up, and he went out to his brethren and saw their suffering.”3 Later in the parashah it says of Moshe, “Hashem saw that he turned aside to see”;4 this is referring to Moshe’s leaving his own comforts to seeing the pain and suffering of others and acting on it. This is what made Moshe worthy of being the redeemer and leader of B’nei Yisrael. It is something we all need to continuously learn from: it is not enough to see and feel empathetic toward someone else’s suffering, but we must also act on it, and work to redeem the ones who are suffering.
Just as Hashem articulates for us in this parashah: Hashem says, “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt, and I have heard its outcry because of its taskmasters, for I have known of its suffering. I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt and to bring it up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…”5
It’s written in the last book of the Torah, “Justice, Justice you shall pursue,”6 and it is this very justice that Moshe exemplified that made him worthy to be our shepherd. King David writes in Tehillim, “He shall judge the poor, rescue the needy and break the oppressor,”7 usually understood to refer to the Moshiach. Akeidat Yizchak points out that these are exactly the traits that Moshe embodied, and it is why he was chosen to be Israel’s redeemer from our Egyptian exile, just as the Moshiach will be the final redeemer from our current exile. Breaking the Psalm down, He shall judge the poor, paralleling the quarrel of the two Israelites, when he intervened and said to the wicked one, “Why are you beating your brother?”; rescue the needy refers to when “Moshe got up and came to [Yitro’s daughters] aid,” and he shall break the oppressor refers to his smiting the Egyptian.
It’s interesting to note that Moshe seems to be asking that Hashem send the Moshiach instead of him when we read, “Send, I pray You, by the hand of whom You will send.”8 The Midrash tells us that this is Moshe asking that Moshiach be sent in his stead, meaning by the hand of Moshiach who will be the future redeemer. Of course, as the story plays out, we see the request was not granted, as Moshe is the one meant to redeem Israel from the enslavement of Egypt to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. We see here the connection between the Moshiach and Moshe, as it’s written in the Zohar, “Moshe was the first and he will be the last redeemer.”9 What this means to teach us is that the redemptive power of the Moshiach is drawn from Moshe, and that they share traits and characteristics. Rambam points out that our power to bring the Moshiach is by virtue of following the Torah of Moshe.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe expounds on this inner connection that is seen in the verse, “And scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh come (ad ki-yavo Shilo).”10 We see through the gematria (numerical value) of the words “yavo Shiloh” and “Moshiach” (“Shiloh come” and “Mashiach”) are numerically equivalent.11 And we see the same numerical equivalence applies to “Shiloh” and “Moshe”. We also see that “yavo” (“come”) is equal to “echad” (“one”). So we could infer that Moshiach is Moshe + One, meaning that the Moshiach, the final redemption, will come through Oneness, which is brought about and transmitted through Torat Moshe.12
As we have covered many times, every descent is for the sake of an ascent, and as we learn through chassidut, our subsequent ascent is higher than the state before the descent, so what could be viewed in despair should be seen through a positive perspective. We see this throughout the timeline of our journey. Adam had six mitzvot (commandments), Noah had seven, and extra mitzvot were given to each Patriarch (even though we learn that they kept all of Torah before it was given). But when we fast forward through the initial journey to the giving of the Torah, we see the closeness and chosenness “and You have chosen us”13 is greater than all the moments preceding. The Rebbe articulates that this was a revelation of Hashem’s essence, something that had not occurred in this way prior.
Falls bring elevation: the descent to Egypt brings the ascent to the Promised Land, and so it is in our own lives. Until the redemptive state, we can’t be all reap, no sow. We have to remember when we sow through the hardships, the flip side of it is reaping the blessings. The Moshiach prati (personal redemption) as well as klali (communal redemption) is brought on by each of us revealing Godliness in the world, to ourselves and to each other. The revelation at Sinai was from above, it was a temporal taste of what is to come, to bring the coming of Moshiach, we can only do that from within.
Ramban outlines this notion in the famous dictum: ma’aseh avot siman labanim – “the fathers’ actions are a siman (sign or signal) for the sons.” In other words, the stories about the Avot are prophetic indicators of what will occur in future generations.16 And the prophecies must be fulfilled, because the Avot’s actions actualize them (e.g. Avraham’s descent into Egypt alludes to B’nei Yisrael’s enslavement there, and so on.) And so we see in Avraham’s journeys, the history of B’nei Yisrael was rehearsed and actualized: just as he went down to Egypt, we did the same through the Egyptian Exile, but also just as Avraham went up out of Egypt, we too were brought to Israel, to redemption, and just as Avraham left, “weighed down with cattle, silver and gold,” we did the same, leaving Egypt, “with greater wealth.”17
Avraham started the descent for an ascent of a people. Moshe, beginning with this parashah, took it further, bringing out the entire nation from slavery to freedom and the revelation at Sinai, which brought Torat Moshe, the outlining of the mitzvot that contains all the ways to purify oneself and elevate physicality. The Moshiach, the final redemption, takes this process, manifested through Moshe, to a level of perfection for the purity of the world.
The Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of Eichah (Lamentations), which we read on Tisha B’Av, and there is one pasuk that really encapsulates exile and the Promised Land, constriction and redemption. It read as such:
גָּֽלְתָ֨ה יְהוּדָ֤ה מֵעֹ֙נִי֙ וּמֵרֹ֣ב עֲבֹדָ֔ה הִ֚יא יָשְׁבָ֣ה בַגּוֹיִ֔ם לֹ֥א מָצְאָ֖ה מָנ֑וֹחַ כׇּל־רֹדְפֶ֥יהָ הִשִּׂיג֖וּהָ בֵּ֥ין הַמְּצָרִֽים
Judah has gone into exile
Because of misery and harsh oppression;
When she settled among the nations,
She found no rest;
All her pursuers overtook her
In the narrow places.18
“Narrow places” parallel the constriction of Egypt. In Hebrew, Egypt is Mitzrayim, which means “straits”, “confinement”, “constriction”. This stanza depicts our soul going from its infinite source into exile, constrained by physicality. The rectification of the “exile” of the Divine presence is the process of ushering in, through awareness and action, the final redemption, which is a return to its source.
We have to remember that to bring the redemptive state, we need to constantly refine our bitachon (trust), so that we truly believe, as we can only bring others to the truth when we are fully immersed in it ourselves. Truth in Hebrew is emet (אמת), which is the first, middle and last letter of the aleph bet (אלף־בית),19 which parallels what is written in Isaiah, “I am the First and I am the Last, and besides Me there is no god.”20 There is nothing but Hashem, the truth, Oneness, represented by aleph (א). To remove aleph from emet (אמת) is to be left with met (מת) which means “death.” The other side of truth is the Sitra Achra, which represents the opposite of life, the opposite of truth and opposes Hashem by concealing Oneness.21
It may feel that our generation is at a lower level than the previous, but we are actually standing on the good deeds of those that came before us, connected to their souls and our ascents, and our final redemption comes from the previous hardships and the ascents that came from the descents. We are now in the time of the final redemption, closer than we have ever been. We need to tap into that reality, that truth, that Oneness, and reveal what has previously been concealed, because the revelation is becoming clearer than it’s ever been!
Notes & Sources
- Likutey Halchot I, p. 268
- Talmud Sotah 12b
- Exodus 2:11
- Ibid 3:4
- Exodus 3:7-8
- Deuteronomy 16:20
- Psalms 72:4
- Exodus 4:13
- Zohar, part I, 253a
- Genesis 49:10
- Baal Haturim on Bereishit 49:10
- Torah Studies, The Rebbe, p. 78
- Orach Chaim 60:4
- Isaiah 40:5
- Arizal, Apples from the Orchard p. 241
- Cf. Ramban 12:6, Bereishit Rabbah 40
- Shir Hashirim Rabbah 4:12
- Lamentations 1:3
- Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 1:1
- Isaiah 44:6
- Torah Studies, The Rebbe, p. 83Torah Studies, The Rebbe, p. 83