“Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, will be called God of the whole world” (Isaiah 54:5).
The story of our people – the “firstborn child” (Exodus 4:22) – is to bring to the world the consciousness of the One God of the entire world. As we discussed in previous letters, the consciousness of the One God includes the consciousness of ourselves as human beings created in the Divine image with the capacity to emulate – on our own level – the Divine compassion, love, and justice.
There are several mitzvos – Divine mandates – in this week’s Torah portion which can give us a deeper and more universal understanding of our consciousness of the One God, and we will begin by discussing the following mitzvah, where Hashem – the Compassionate One – proclaims:
“I am Hashem, your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 5:6 – This verse first appears in Exodus 20:2.)
Maimonides, in his classical work, “The Book of Mitzvos,” cites this verse as the source for the mitzvah to believe in the One Creator of all existence. This verse, however, does not speak of Hashem Who created the world; it speaks of Hashem Who redeemed us from the bondage of Egypt. If this verse is the source of the mitzvah to believe in the One Who created the world, then why does it emphasize the redeeming role of the Creator? This is to teach us that the Creating One is the Redeeming One! We believe in the One God Who created the world and Who is leading the world to its ultimate redemption.
According to Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil, a noted sage of the 13th century, this verse calls upon us to not only believe that Hashem redeemed us in the past, but to also believe that Hashem will redeem us in the future. In his classical work on the mitzvos, known as “Sefer Mitzvos Katan,” he states that the obligation to believe in the coming of the Messiah is rooted in the words, “I am Hashem, your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt” – for the Exodus from Egypt is a testimony to the ongoing Divine providence in history that is leading us to the ultimate redemption of the messianic age.
Regarding the messianic age, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
“When the Father of humankind sends His ‘second Moses,’ ending the persecution of His people upon earth and wiping away all tears (Isaiah 25:8) – then will the Exodus be remembered and acknowledged as the root from which the redemption of Israel and all humankind has stemmed.” (The Hirsch Haggadah, page 265)
As a source for this idea, Rabbi Hirsch cites a teaching from the Passover Haggadah which discusses the following words from the Torah: “So that you may remember the day of your going out from the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Deuteronomy 16:3). The Haggadah mentions the teaching of our sages which reveals that the Torah’s emphasis on remembering the Exodus “all” the days of our life is to include “the days of the Messiah.”
The connection between the Exodus and the ultimate redemption of Israel and humankind is expressed in the Passover Seder. In their commentaries on the Passover Haggadah, sages such as the Abarbanel and the Vilna Gaon offer the following explanation as to why the Passover Seder is divided into two parts – one part before the meal and the other part after the meal: The first part focuses on the past redemption – our physical and spiritual liberation from the bondage of Egypt. The second part focuses on the future redemption – the arrival of the messianic age of universal spiritual enlightenment. We therefore chant the following verse during the second half of the Seder:
"Praise Hashem, all nations; extol Him, all the states!"(Psalm 117:1).
And we conclude the Seder with the proclamation: "Next Year in Jerusalem!" – the era when, “Many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek out Hashem in Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:22).
The entire world will one day recognize that the One Who redeemed us from the bondage of Egypt is their God, as well. On our lonely journey through history, we must maintain this universal consciousness, as the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed to our people: “Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, will be called God of the whole world” (Isaiah 54:5).
During the seven weeks following the Fast of Tisha B’Av, we chant on each Shabbos comforting prophecies from the Book of Isaiah regarding the future redemption of Israel and the world. The portion of this Shabbos opens with the Divine call, “Comfort, comfort My people” (40:1), and it contains the following message regarding the future redemption:
“A voice calls out in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way of Hashem; make a straight path in the desert, a road for our God,’ Every valley will be raised, and every mountain and hill will be lowered; the crooked will become straight and heights will become valley. The glory of Hashem will be revealed and all flesh together will see that the mouth of Hashem has spoken.” (40:3-5)
Have a Comforting Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. The belief of our people in the Redeeming One inspired other oppressed people to have faith in eventual salvation. For example, Rabbi Hirsch mentions that this faith in eventual salvation gave “hope to the black slave in the plantation” (ibid). Rabbi Hirsch may have been aware that the slaves on plantations in the United States drew hope from the story of Israel’s liberation from bondage. In fact, one of their popular spirituals was “Go Down Moses” – a song based on the Passover story. The following is a stanza from this song:
“Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt's land; Tell ol' Pharaoh, Let my people go!”
2. “The March on Washington” was a great civil rights rally on behalf of African Americans which took place on August 28th, 1963. Among the civil rights leaders who spoke at the rally was Reverend Martin Luther King, an African American minister with a universal vision which was influenced to some degree by the writings of the Jewish prophets. For example, his famous speech at the rally, “I Have a Dream,” was influenced by the prophecy from the Book of Isaiah which we chant on this Shabbos, and the following words from this speech serve as example:
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
3. In the Torah portion of this Shabbos, we also have the mitzvah to believe in the Unity of God, as it is written: “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). As the classical commentator, Rashi, explain, the phrase “Hashem is One” is referring to the messianic age when all the peoples will have the consciousness that Hashem is One. Why, however, do we address our own people, Israel, before proclaiming the universal vision, “Hashem is One”? We realize that we must first remind our own people that the Compassionate One is our God, so that we can become a model of the Divine Unity through our words and deeds. And through the spiritual power of our example, all the peoples will be inspired to join us in proclaiming “Hashem is One!”