Hashavua Study Center
January 23, 2010
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-
in Ramat Gan,
project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman
Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on
the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-
International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for
Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
There he comes”
Department of Talmud
and Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
Inkthis week’s reading (chapter 12) Moses and Aaron give
the Israelites explicit instructions as to how they are to prepare for the
great night of the exodus from Egypt.
It all begins with a festive introduction,
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the
first of the months of the year for you” (Ex. 12:2); this proclamation turns
the month of Nisan, the month in which they were delivered from Egypt, into
the first of all months. One can imagine
how special was the moment in which the Israelites understood that the time for
which they had been yearning was now at hand;
they were indeed about to be liberated from
their backbreaking life of slavery, about to achieve their longed-for
liberation. However, Pesikta de-
presents a surprising description of this moment:
beloved! There he comes, leaping over
mountains, bounding over hills – (Song 2:8)…
Rabbi Judah says:
My beloved! There he comes, refers to Moses, when he came and said
“In this month you shall be redeemed.”
They said to him, “Moses, our Teacher, how can it be that we shall be
redeemed?! Did not the Holy One, blessed
be He, say to our patriarch Abraham, ‘and they shall be enslaved and oppressed
four hundred years’ (Gen. 15:13), but only two hundred and twenty years have
elapsed!” He answered them, “Since He desires
your redemption, He does not look closely at your accounting, rather, he ‘leaps
over the mountains, bounds over the hills.’
He leaps over the dates and reckonings and leap years.
And in this month you shall be redeemed, for
‘this month shall mark for you the beginning of the months (Ex.12:2).’”
Moses announced to the
Israelites that the time for their redemption was at hand. The Israelites responded
with skepticism, maintaining that by accurate calculation, in accordance with
what had been said in the Covenant of the Pieces, the bondage in Egypt was to
last four hundred years. Therefore, the
time for their redemption had not yet come.
Unlike what we understood from the Biblical text, this
midrash describes the Israelites as forestalling
What is the point of presenting them
thus? To sharpen the question, we note
that the Pesikta goes on to present two more
almost identical commentaries built on the same pattern.
In these passages, too, Moses announces that
the time for redemption from Egypt
has come, and the Israelites raise various difficulties.
According to the remarks of Rabbi Nehemiah,
the Israelites claim that they are not yet worthy of redemption, for they are
full of the “contamination of idolatry,” and according to the Rabbis, they had
no “good deeds” to their merit. This
makes our question all the more poignant, because we see that the Israelites’
refusal to leave Egypt
is thrice repeated in the words of several tannaim.
Why describe the Israelites as arguing
The Sages apparently wished to emphasize, each in his own
way, that the redemption from Egypt
took place before its appointed time. It
came before the allotted years of bondage were up, before the Israelites had
separated themselves from idolatry, and despite their not having mended their
ways. As Rabbi Judah said,
“Since He desires your redemption, He does not look closely at your
accounting.Rather, he ‘leaps over the mountains, bounds
over the hills.’ He leaps over the dates
and reckonings and leap years.” The Holy
One, blessed be He, is presented as being above all these things, even rules
which He himself set. If the appropriate
moment has come, He can leap over months and years – i.e., the mountains (like
the belly of a pregnant woman [Heb. me`uberet 'a
pregnant woman,' is a play on the word ibbur,
which means leap year]). He can look the
other way from idolatry and skip over bad deeds.
The use of the verse from Song of Songs to
introduce this midrash shows the love that the
Holy One, blessed be He, has for Israel.
Like the beloved who longs for his companion,
so, too, the Holy One, blessed be He, skips and bounds in order to hasten His
long-awaited reunion with Israel
as they are redeemed from Egypt.
The surprising part comes in the fourth and last section of
this passage from Pesikta, which breaks the
pattern of the previous three that dealt with redemption from Egypt and
describes another event which has not yet transpired:
Yodan said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer,
son of Rabbi Yose of Galilee,
Rabbi Huna in the name of Rabbi Eliezer
b. Jacob: Hark!
There he comes – this refers to the Messiah.
When he comes and says to Israel, “this
is the month in which you shall be redeemed,” they shall say to him, “Our
Rabbi, King and Messiah, how can it be that we shall be redeemed?!
Did not the Holy One, blessed be He, say that
he would enslave us to seventy nations?”
He will then give them two answers, saying, “One of you was exiled to
Barbariya and one of you to Saramatiya;
it is as if you were all exiled.
Moreover, this wicked kingdom drafts soldiers from each and every
nation. If one Samarian comes and
enslaves you, it is as if his entire nation had enslaved you.
If one Kushite
comes and enslaves you, it is as if his entire nation had enslaved you.
And this month you shall be redeemed, for this
month shall mark for you the beginning of the months (Ex.12:2).”
Rabbi Yodan and Rabbi Huna
describe the redemption of the future as following the tannaitic
pattern of the redemption from Egypt.
Just as the redemption from Egypt occurred
before its time, so too, will the future redemption.
In the future, too, the Holy One, blessed be
He, will not execute strict judgment, in two ways:
regarding the dispersal of the people of Israel
throughout distant lands, the Holy One, blessed be He, will view the exile of
individuals as if the entire nation had been exiled. Regarding servitude to
foreign kingdoms, the Holy One, blessed be He, will view the army that is
raised to persecute Israel
as fulfillment of the bondage of the people of Israel to seventy nations, since
this army is comprised of soldiers from a variety of nations and each soldier represents
his own nationality. In this manner, the
Holy One, blessed be He, will shorten the length of enslavement to other
These Sages who compared
the future redemption to the redemption from Egypt took a clear stand on a
question on which the views of the Tannaim had
been divided, namely, in which month Redemption would come (Rosh ha-
It is taught:
Rabbi Eliezer says
the world was created in Tishre … in Nisan they
were redeemed, and in Tishre they are
destined to be redeemed. Rabbi Joshua
says the world was created in Nisan, in Nisan they were redeemed,
and in Nisan they are destined to be redeemed.
It appears that the
Amoraim, and perhaps even the Pesikta
stand by the opinion of Rabbi Joshua, that the Redeemer will appear in Nisan,
just as happened in the case of the redemption from Egypt.
Pesikta is built on the model of “three and
four”: three almost identical
tannaitic homilies that deal with the redemption from Egypt
and a fourth amoraic one that deals with the future
redemption. Why is this repetitiveness
necessary? Why did the editor present
the same idea in the mouth of several Sages?
It seems that the homilies in Pesikta
represent positions that were common among the people and the Sages regarding
the time of redemption (cf. Sanhedrin 97b).
The first assertion,
voiced in Rabbi Judah’s
remarks, is that the exile is finite.
The length of the bondage is predetermined (for example, in the case of Egypt, four
hundred years). Redemption will come in
due time, irrespective of the spiritual condition of Israel.
Another assertion, voiced by Rabbi Nehemiah
and the Rabbis, is that the length of the bondage depends on Israel.
It will be longer or shorter, according to
their behavior: “(If Israel repent, they
are redeemed” (Talmud, loc. sit.).
Redemption has no set time. If
the people of Israel
mend their ways, redemption will come immediately.
Even in this broad spectrum of views, a clear
message of consolation is sent in equal measure in each.
In the case of those who believe in a set
time for redemption, or in the case of those who believe that mending one’s
ways is essential, the mercy of the Holy One, blessed be He, will triumph and
redemption will come as a surprise, before its anticipated time.
Are we seeing here a
desire to spread messianic hopes among the people?
Is this a call to messianic activism?
I believe the answer to be negative.
All four passages present the people of Israel as
passive. Their passivity is especially
prominent in comparison with the deity’s activism:
He is the one whose voice rings out, who
comes, leaping and skipping. The Holy
One, blessed be He, is the one who decides and announces that the time has
come, and its arrival comes as a surprise.
The people of Israel
are certain that the time has not yet come and argue against themselves in
various ways. Presenting the people of Israel
as trying to put off the time of redemption enables the homilist to present his
bold statement that the end has come before its anticipated time since the Holy
One, blessed be He, Himself will shorten the length of the exile.
Alongside the tone of
consolation and encouragement which we detect here there is also a note of
restraint, calling for the people to wait patiently for redemption, which will
come of its own accord. There is no
point in computing when the end will come, nor is there any point in radical
actions by individuals. These are not
the central factors in determining the time for redemption.
The decision that the appropriate time has
come is solely in the hands of the Holy One, blessed be He.