Va’eira: Probing the Code

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22 Jan 2009

Messianism is a brisk and dangerous business. A top story in the news about a year ago, was the halachic status of an erstwhile convert who believes in a Mashiach that is no longer alive. I will stay out of the minefield, other than to note that where there is tremendous pain, there is messianic fervor. The end of the 2nd temple period found no less than six false messiahs. Since that time, the business has only expanded; as the last 2000 years of Jewish history has seen its tragic share of Messianic charlatans foisting upon the very eager-to-believe masses.

As our parsha commences, Moshe the redeemer gets off to a slow start. Yet the Jews believed in Moshe’s authenticity. Chazal wonder how did the Jews know that Moshe was for real. They relate the fascinating tradition of the pakod code (1):

[God says:] Once you (Moshe) tell it to them using this expression pakod pakadeti (remember, I have remembered), they will listen to your voice, for this sign has already been transmitted to them through Yaakov and Yosef that with this expression they will be redeemed.”

Leaving aside the obvious anybody could have used those words question (2) – let us ponder the inherent redemptive notion found in the pakod2 terminology. Why are these words specifically, chosen to verify the redeemer? First let us probe why the double pekidah terminology. Herein, three classic approaches:

  1. Ohr HaChaim – I shall remember the end date of redemption. I shall remember to end their pain.
  2. Midrash – I will remember you and I have remembered you
  3. Rabbeinu Bechayei (2nd approach) – I shall mercifully remember the pain of the Jewish people and judgmentally reckon with those Egyptians who inflicted the pain.

It is Rabbeinu Bechayei’s 1st approach however that yields stunning implications:

Pakod – I remember the Jews, even after all these years; Pakadeti – I remember Me (i.e. My pain of exile)

Conventional religious wisdom dictates that the classic (anthropomorphic) understanding of Hashem feeling our pain approximates the way we feel another’s pain. Someone else’s hurt affects our lives commensurate to the closeness of our relationship. In the end however, it is still the other’s pain, and we the feelers, remain cloaked in the world of sympathy. Rabbeinu Bechayei’s notion is that God is empathetic, for it His pain as well. Hashem say pakod, I remember your galut (exile) pain; why? Because pakadeti, it is My pain as well (3).

And why is it His pain? Because in Zohar lexicon and Talmudic explanation (4), Shechinta b’galuta. A (feminine) piece of Hashem, known as Shechina is in exile. God, as it were, experiences galut. Now we understand the depth of Hashem’s instruction to Yaakov as he is about to descend to Egypt: (Bereishit, 46:4).

I will go down with you to Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again;

As Moshe sees the presence of God in the burning bush, the Rabbis wonder why such a diminutive place:

And not another tree because: “I (God) am with him (Israel) in his trouble.

And when we return, it will be a double return – for the Shechina will return with us (4):

… as it says, “Then the Lord your God will return with your captivity”. It does not say veheshiv [and He shall bring back] but veshav [and He shall return]. This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, will return with them from the places of exile.

If Hashem is in exile and feels pain, several amazing Rabbinic statements come alive. Witness:

a. Hashem “cries” (5)

R. Samuel b. Inia said in the name of Rab: The Holy One, blessed be He, has a place (where He cries) and its name is mistarim (secret). [a play on the verse b’mistarim tivkeh nafshi].

b. Hashem “needs” Nechama(6)

[Hashem says:] To whom does one need to comfort when one’s wife dies? Not to the husband?! So, Tzion is left dark like the dead, don’t I need to be comforted. Nachamuni Nachamuni Ami, Comfort me, Comfort me – my nation

c. Hashem “suffers”

[When a man is being put to death] what does the Shechinah utter? My head is heavy, my arm is heavy’.

Remarkably, we also pray for God. Every Friday night, in a famous prayer composed by the kabbalist, R. Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz [Tzfat, 1500-1580], we pray that the Shechina should be redeemed and reunited with Kudsha Brich Hu(7) The name of the prayer: Lecha Dodi! Similarly, in our preamble to mitzvos, many say l’sheim yichud kudsha brich hu ushechinta – a prayer that seeks the reuniting of shechina with kudsha brich hu (8)

But why does God exile Himself? Is it solely to enact Divine empathy? Perhaps something even more fundamental is at work: The Talmud, in the context of the unintentional murderer (who must flee to the city of refuge), teaches:

A Tanna taught: A talmid (student) who goes into exile is joined by his Rebbe, as the text teaches: “and he shall flee into one of the cities and he shall live”, — provide him with whatever he needs to live.

Sans Shechina, the Jew cannot survive exile (9). Remarkably, Hashem exiles himself with, and for the sake of, His talmid (the Jews). In so doing, He creates for Himself tremendous pain. The only way to stop that pain is to redeem the Shechina from exile – something that can only happen when his children/students are redeemed.

And how are we to be redeemed?

Perhaps this is the secret of Pakod Pakadeti. Yes, God monologues to His children: I feel your pain (and Mine). But pakod pakadeti is a dialogue. Hashem, as it were, is saying: I will remember you, but mein tyre kind, my dear children, please don’t forget me; your ability to be redeemed requires that you also must state pakod pakadeti – you must feel My pain also. To the extent that we acknowledge His pain and His presence, we bring redemption.

Can we fathom the pain that our Creator must surely feel when so many of His children don’t know Him; and even more significantly when we, the faithful, who should be so close, feel so distant.

In an incredible personal letter, the Piasetzner Rebbe, who inspired the broken-hearted Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, upon reaching the milestone age of forty wrote (10),

“What should I accept upon myself?.. To learn more?I think that, to the best of my knowledge, I waste no time.To distance myself from lust and desire? Baruch Hashem, I think I have overcome that. What am I missing? Pashut, simply – to be a Jew! I visualize myself as a human being with everything but a neshamah, soul. Master of the Universe, Save me .. Draw me close and bind me to You forever

Orthodox Jewish life has many challenges; amongst the most subtle and significant is not to forget Hashem amidst our Torah, Tefilla and Avodah. One can do all the right things and still feel so rachok, so distant from Hashem, – enmeshed in a type of personal exile.

Redemption, individual and national can only occur when we respond to Hashem in deed and in thought – pakod pakadeti – We, your children, also remember You.

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander


1. Rashi, Shemos, 3:18. Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer records a more expansive and fascinating version: וכלם לא נמסרו אלא לאברהם אבינו ואברהם מסרן ליצחק ויצחק מסרן ליעקב ויעקב מסר סוד הגאולה ליוסף, שנ’ ואלהים פקוד יפקוד אתכם ויוסף בנו מסר סוד הגאולה לאחיו ואמ’ להם פקוד יפקוד אלהים אתכם, ואשר מסר סוד הגאולה לסרח בתו, וכשבאו משה ואהרן אצל זקני ישראל ועשו האותות לעיניהם הלכו אצל סרח בת אשר אמרו לה בא אדם אחד אצלנו ועשה אותות לעינינו כך וכך, אמרה להם אין באותו ממש, אמרו לה והרי אמ’ פקוד יפקוד אלהים אתכם, אמרה להם הוא האיש העתיד לגאול את ישראל ממצרים, שכן שמעתי מאבא פ”א פ”א פקוד יפקוד, מיד האמינו העם באלהיהם ובשלוחו,
2. Cf. Ramban 3:18, that deals with this question.
3. This causative reading of the Rabbeinu Bechayei is admittedly a subjective one – which does not impact the essential notion presented here.
4. Cf. Megillah 29a
5. Chagiga 5b
6. Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu Remez 443 דבר אחר נחמו נחמו עמי, אמר הקב”ה למי צריך לנחם למי שמתה אשתו, לא לבעלה – כך נמשלה ציון במחשכים הושיבני כמתי עולם, לא אותי צריכים לנחם? נחמוני נחמוני עמי. כיוצא בו משל למה”ד? למי שנשבו שני בניו בחייו למי מנחמים, לאו לאביהם? כך בני יצאוני ואינם. כיוצא בו משל למה”ד? למי שנשרף ביתו למי מנחמים לבית או לבעל הבית – כך הקב”ה שרפו את ביתו, שנאמר וישרוף את בית ה’. כיוצא בו משל למה”ד? למי שנקצץ כרמו לא לבעל הכרם מנחמים?
7. the male counterpart of the Shechina, lit. the Holy One Blessed be He.
8. Friday night we pray for the Shechina (bah) and Shabbos day for Kudsha brich hu (bo) and on Shabbos mincha we pray for the reunion atah echad v’shimcha echad
9. According to many this is the deep meaning of the haggadah’s statement: V’hee she’amda l’avoseinu v’lanu – the hee being the (feminine) Shechina
10. ומה אקבל עלי ללמוד יותר? כמדומני שמה שאפשר לי שלא ללכת בטל – אינני הולך בטל. להתרחק מן התאוות – אם אין יצרי מרמה אותי, ברוך ה’ איני משועבד כל כך לתאווה גופנית חס ושלום ומה חסר לי? פשוט להיות יהודי, חסר לי. דומה אני בעיני כצורת אדם מצוירת, שהכל בה, הגוונים, הצורה וכו’. רק אחת חסרה.הנשמה חסרה.ריבונו של עולם צופה ומביט כל נעלם, לפניך אתוודה ומלפניך אתחנן…פשוט רוצה אני מעתה להתגייר, ולהיות מעתה יהודי.ריבונו של עולם הושיעני… קרב אותי אליך והכניסני היכל לפנים מהיכל.קשור אותי אליך לעולם ועד

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.