Beshalach is the culmination of Pharoh’s directive to let Bnei Yisroel leave Mitzraim. It must be noted that the Torah identifies this as a leaving by means of “shelach,” a term of free will as in the Parsha of the meraglim, when G-d says to Moshe “shlach lecha,” denoting that the sending of the spies was a “free will” decision on Moshe’s part. So too Pharoh reached a level of “shlach,” letting Bnei Yisroel leave out of his own voluntary free will.
Up until Beshalach, Pharoh uses the language of “lechu” when he tells Bnei Yisroel to temporarily leave Mitzraim and serve their G-d. Lechu is a forced directive as we find by Avraham where G-d commands him “lech lecha.” Similarly, in this case, Pharoh was doing this out of forced will and not free will.
Though G-d still hardens Pharoh’s heart in the last instance when he pursues the nation of Israel to the sea, we do nevertheless see an act of free will by Pharoh in being meshalech Bnei Yisroel from Egypt. This could be a frame of reference to understand his capacity of doing teshuva, and ultimately, in his final rule, leading Ninveh to do teshuva.
The word Bo is a combination of the letters beis and aleph, rightly so. You need the beis, which has three sides, symbolic of the three partners in creation to create an aleph, (and thus the open sided, birthing beis vis-avia the aleph) one new individual. G-d was telling Moshe that He was also his Av which is Bo backwards.
Including the vav for the gematria would equal nine, equivalent to the tesha yemei ledah to create an individual.
We know the Torah begins with a beis, and the question is why. It may be suggested that G-d is the ultimate symbol of the aleph, as He is omnipotent, and G-d didn’t want to begin the Torah with any letter promoting His essence, as G-d seeks humility.
Yosef’s life was shortened, and he died at the age of 110. The Gemara (Brachot 55a) explains that this occurred because he conducted himself with an air of superiority over his brothers.
A drash that establishes the normative lifespan to be 120 would be based on the Gemara (Bava Kamma 26a) that says, “Adam Muad Leolam,” which can be translated to mean that man’s time is forever, and the gematria of the word muad is 120.
This parsha’s name Vayeshev, is indicative of two events, the first being the “dwelling” of Yaakov in Eretz Canaan and the second being the “return” (Vayeshev) of the serpent. We find the second instance by the trop relating to the word vayemain, when Yosef refused eshet Potiphar’s advance. There is a shalsheles above the aleph which in the figurine of a snake (pointing down, in attack-mode). But why is the snake coming to attack above the aleph? We can suggest two things. Firstly, this is the snake of creation that tripped up Adam Harishion (Adam beginning with the letter aleph). Secondly, it was coming to attack the oneness (echad) of Yosef as a person and the oneness between Yosef and Yaakov. My-great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Levine zt”l, notes that the word Shalom refers to Torah because Torah (Shalom) has the ability to unify the guf and neshama and bring Shalom between them. The yetzer hara was trying to pierce Yosef’s own harmony and the unity of Torah he enjoyed with his father, Yaakov.
Within the shalsheles, the “three” pronged snake, lies a hint on how to wage battle against the serpent. It is said if one is stricken by the yetzer hara, he should do one of “three” things, bring it to the beis midrash, say the Shema, or remind himself that one day every person will die.
Within the word vayemain, we also find the word amen, which be’gemetria is 91 the same gematria of the word tze, (to fulfill), 91, indicating that the snake wanted Yosef to submit the attack and fulfill his destiny with this licentious act. However, Yosef exercised emunah, also sourced in the word vayemain, and the gematria of emunah, is 102, to equal kav, 102 a measurement, as he showed the proper measure of restraint and will forever be measured by this act of refusal
The snake, in the form of the shalsheles in this parsha, tried to sever the chain of Torah that was being passed on from Yaakov to Yosef which would have halted the Mesorah. However, the snake failed and ultimately Bnei Yisroel would accept the Torah “ki’ish echad, be’lev echad” retaining the unity in body and soul needed to serve G-d in harmony, thus diffusing the conspirings of the evil inclination.
The gematria of Vayishlach is 354. The Jewish year, which is based on a lunar calendar, has 354 days. The solar year is 365 days and since the holidays have to match up with the seasons, occasionally leap years are added (like this year).
But why is parsha Vayishlach symbolic of a 354 day year? Perhaps we can say it’s a hint to our forefather Yaakov who was metaken maariv, a lunar time-frame. Also, Yaakov was the Av symbolic of the dark galus, yet he offered a gesture of light to appease Eisav in order try to bring him close and rectify Eisav’s shortcomings. Lastly, Yaakov fought the angel of Eisav at night, and achieved victory, an ode to the lunar calendar.
While Avraham is given the directive lech lecha “go into yourself and understand who you are” by G-d, Yaakov, out of free will, engages in a Vayetze, a leaving of his internal place to an external mindset. This is because Avraham and Yaakov had two different missions. Avraham had to build himself from the inside out to create an inner core that could take on a world of atheism and convert it to a state of monotheism, while Yaakov had to engage in external battles with his brother and the yetzer hara that is a constant force trying to thwart Torah learning.
My late relative, Rav Avrohom Genechovsky zt”l, told me a drash related to this parsha. Esav, out of need to fulfill his immediate desires in this world, surrenders the bechor rights for adashim. Rav Avrohom said that these adashim are alluded to in Rav Yehuda’s acronym on Pesach for the ten plagues in the form of detzach, adash be’achav. Rav Avrohom explained, that based on drash Rav Yehudah’s statement can be understood to mean that one who engages in detzach, symbolic of ditza rina, and chedvah – manifestations of enjoying this world for short term purposes, as evidenced by “adash” the adashim by Esav, will be in a situation of be’acah, ba chov – the debt will have to paid – meaning that this type of ephemeral happiness will ultimately be reckoned for and have to be paid back.
We say in Ashrei, Malchutcha malchut kol-olamim, umemshaltecha b’chol dor vador. The common explanation of this verse is that, “G-d’s kingdom will last forever, and You (G-d) will rule in all generations.” However, based on drash, we can understand the verse to be saying, “G-d’s kingdom will last forever, but “we” rule You (G-d) in all generations.”
In this week’s parsha, we are familiarized with the language of “dominion” as it says by the episode of Avraham’s swearing of his slave Eliezer, that Eleizer was moshel (ruled) on all of Avraham’s possessions.
This Biblical verse can shed light on the drash in Ashrei because Eliezer was labeled as Avraham’s eved – slave and the verse says that Eliezer ruled over everything. The message is that if you are a true eved you can rule over your master. So too, if we are full-fledged avadim to Hashem, G-d would have no greater pleasure then embracing our rule.
Mind Control In Elul
It’s estimated that we have 50,000 thoughts a day; some of them are unwanted. For those who wish to control their thoughts, I suggest the following:
Kabbalah teaches that the first few moments of a negative thought are not our own; they are sent from heaven. But it’s our responsibility to disregard these thoughts. As the parsha so poetically says this week, “Shoftim ve’shotrim titein lecha be’sharecha.” We must place safeguards to prevent evil from penetrating us.
First we must be shoftim and judge the thought. If it is negative, we must then be shotrim and destroy it by disregarding it.