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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5778

Parashat Hashavua: Unknown Spiritual Power

Harav Yosef Carmel

Before the appointment of Moshe at the burning bush, the pasuk announces: “Hashem saw Bnei Yisrael, and Hashem knew (vayeda)” (Shemot 2:25). Many of our great commentators have toiled to explain this pasuk, especially its conclusion. Doesn’t Hashem always know everything? What exactly is it here that Hashem “knew,” and what does it have to do with Bnei Yisrael’s burgeoning redemption?

Rashi explains that before Moshe’s mission began, there was a period of hester panim (a hidden divine face), a phenomenon whose dangerous consequences can be appreciated by those of our generations and many others. Therefore, with the “knowing,” Rashi explains, “He put his heart upon them and did not turn His eyes away.”

Ibn Ezra explains in a different direction: “Hashem saw the Egyptian treachery that they performed openly, and He knew what they were doing clandestinely.” According to this, the topic of the knowledge was the Egyptians’ behavior. The idea of torture done behind the gates of death camps is also something we, unfortunately, can relate to.

Abarbanel says:” On the one hand, he heard Bnei Yisrael’s anguish, and on the other hand, he saw that Bnei Yisrael acted in the manner of the Land of Egypt, regarding their idolatry. Despite this, Hashem tipped their judgment toward merit, “knew” them, and had mercy on them to liberate them.” Abarbanel seems to be based on a midrash (Rabba, Shemot 1). “Hashem saw that they will in the future rebel at Yam Suf, and He knew that they would say there ‘He is my G-d;’ He saw that they would say [at the Golden Calf] ‘these are your gods, Israel,’ and He knew that they would say ‘We will do’ before ‘We will hear.’”

The midrash is trying to deal with the nation’s situation: on one hand, it is able to reach great spiritual heights and, on the other, it falls into deep pits in regard to keeping mitzvot and fear of Hashem. This crucial pasuk, at the cusp of liberation, provides a great lesson for our times. If we want to know what can cause Hashem to “rule” in our favor, we can look at the next passage in the midrash: “He saw that the average people repented and even the wicked people had thoughts of repentance, and Hashem knew, because one person did not know what was in his counterpart’s heart, but each one had thoughts of repentance in his heart.”

This teaches us that people may tend to repent in a way that only Hashem knows. It is not only the righteous who “carry the nation on their backs.” Even the average and the wicked lend a hand and are righteous in their own way. In the past years, despite deterioration in certain areas, there are hidden holy thoughts in the nation, and these sprout up in between the cracks throughout Israeli society. This is a much broader phenomenon than the movement of open teshuva. This joins with open advances in Israel in important areas.

Even if the path is long, let us internalize our parasha’s message. We should look for these thoughts of teshuva, including in social, moral, and values-based fields, and encourage their growth. If we rush matters and think we can easily turn them into full teshuva, we will ruin progress. But the seeds are there. “Hashem knew.” Friends, let us employ patience. 

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