The Torah's Introductions - Shemot

Ramban 1194-1270, born Girona, Catalonia and dies in Israel

Ramban's commentary on the Torah (five books of Moses) was his last work, and his most well known. He frequently cites and critiques Rashi's commentary, and provides alternative interpretations where he disagrees with Rashi's interpretation. He was prompted to record his commentary by three motives:

  1. to satisfy the minds of students of the Law and stimulate their interest by a critical examination of the text;
  2. to justify the ways of God and discover the hidden meanings of the words of Scripture, "for in the Torah are hidden every wonder and every mystery, and in her treasures is sealed every beauty of wisdom";
  3. to soothe the minds of the students by simple explanations and pleasant words when they read the appointed sections of the Pentateuch on Sabbaths and festivals.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, Netziv, 1816 Mir - 1893, Poland

The Netziv was the rosh yeshiva of Volozhin, he was a traditionalist in his approach to Torah, unlike that of his colleagues from the Soloveitchik dynasty. He was a Zionist, in the religious sense of the word, encouraging his students to settle the land of Israel.

What does the Ramban do in his introcution to the book of Shemot

  1. He restablishes the reality of exile
  2. He sees Shemot not as a book of freedom, but a book of redemption
השלים הכתוב ספר בראשית שהוא ספר היצירה בחידוש העולם ויצירת כל נוצר ובמקרי האבות שהם כענין יצירה לזרעם מפני שכל מקריהם ציורי דברים לרמוז ולהודיע כל עתיד לבא להם. ואחרי שהשלים היצירה התחיל ספר אחר בענין המעשה הבא מן הרמזים ההם.
‘V’EILEH SHEMOTH’ (AND THESE ARE THE NAMES OF…)1The Hebrew names for the books of the Bible are generally taken from the first words in the Hebrew text. Thus the name “V’eileh Shemoth” for this second book of the Torah, or just “Shemoth,” as it is now known. In the Talmud it is known as Chomesh Sheini, the “Second Fifth” of the five books of the Torah (Sotah 36 b). The English name Exodus stems from the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Bible, and is based on the fact that the first fifteen chapters deal with the exodus from Egypt. In the Book of Genesis, which is the book of Creation, the Torah completed the account of how the world was brought forth from nothingness and how everything was created, as well as an account of all the events which befell the patriarchs, who are a sort of creation to their seed.2In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Ramban develops this theme at great length. See Index to Vol. I, p. 618, Patriarchs. All the events that happened to them were symbolic occurrences, indicating and foretelling all that was destined to come upon their seed. After having completed the account of creation, the Torah begins another book concerning the subject that had been alluded to in those symbolic events [recorded in the Book of Genesis].
ונתייחד ספר ואלה שמות בענין הגלות הראשון הנגזר בפירוש ובגאולה ממנו ולכן חזר והתחיל בשמות יורדי מצרים ומספרם אע"פ שכבר נכתב זה בעבור כי ירידתם שם הוא ראשית הגלות כי מאז הוחל.
The Book of V’eileh Shemoth was set apart for the story of the first exile,3Four exiles were decreed. The first one was in Egypt. See Index to Vol. I, p. 613, Exile. which had been clearly decreed,4Genesis 15:13. and the redemption therefrom. This is why He reverted and began [this second book of the Torah] with the names of those persons who went down to Egypt, and mentioned their total number,5In Verse 5 here: And all the souls … were seventy souls. although this had already been written.6Genesis 46:8-27. It is because their descent thereto constituted the beginning of the exile, which began from that moment on.7The exile thus did not begin with the actual enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians; rather it started with their very descent into Egypt. Hence here at the beginning of the book of the exile, the Torah uses the same verse found in the Book of Genesis where the actual account of the descent is given, in order to indicate that the exile began at that point. See also Ramban on Genesis 46:2 (Vol. I, p. 553), where he alludes to this thought. Ramban makes further reference to it here in Verse 1.
והנה הגלות איננו נשלם עד יום שובם אל מקומם ואל מעלת אבותם ישובו. וכשיצאו ממצרים אע"פ שיצאו מבית עבדים עדיין יחשבו גולים כי היו בארץ לא להם נבוכים במדבר. וכשבאו אל הר סיני ועשו המשכן ושב הקב"ה והשרה שכינתו ביניהם אז שבו אל מעלות אבותם שהיה סוד אלוה עלי אהליהם והם הם המרכבה ואז נחשבו גאולים. ולכן נשלם הספר הזה בהשלימו ענין המשכן ובהיות כבוד ה' מלא אותו תמיד.
Now the exile was not completed8Ramban is now aiming to explain why the second book of the Torah, which as explained above is the book of the first exile and the redemption therefrom, does not close with the actual exodus or with the Revelation on Sinai, but instead proceeds with the account of the building of the Tabernacle. Ramban’s answer is most illuminating and inspiring. until the day they returned to their place9See Hosea 5:15. and were restored to the status of their fathers. When they left Egypt, even though they came forth from the house of bondage, they were still considered exiles because they were in a land that is not theirs,.11Genesis 15:13. entangled in the desert.10See further, 14:3. When they came to Mount Sinai and made the Tabernacle, and the Holy One, blessed be He, caused His Divine Presence to dwell again amongst them, they returned to the status of their fathers when the ‘sod eloka’ (counsel of G-d) was upon their tents12See Job 29:4, and Ramban’s commentary thereon, (in my Kithvei Haramban: Vol. I, p. 90), where he interprets the verse as follows: “Job is saying that sod eloka — the counsel of G-d - was known in his tent, as if He foretold all future events. Thus Job and all who were with him were guarded from mishaps and troubles. It may be that sod eloka is a reference to the angels of the Supreme One and the host of the heavens that dwelled upon his tent to guard him from all evil, etc.” Ramban is thus intimating here that the complete redemption of the Israelites from their first exile was not achieved until they were restored to the same position held by the patriarchs. Whereas the Divine Presence rested upon the tents of the patriarchs — see Shabbath 55b, where Rashi clearly states that before the building of the Tabernacle, the Divine Presence was to be found upon the tents of the righteous — so Israel regained its original status only when the Divine Glory came to rest upon the Tabernacle at the time of its completion. See end of Book of Exodus. It is for this reason that the second book of the Torah — devoted as it is to the first exile and the redemption therefrom — continues with the account of the building of the Tabernacle. and “they were those who constituted the Chariot of the Holy One.”13Bereshith Rabbah 47:8. See Vol. I, p. 224. Then they were considered redeemed. It was for this reason that this second book of the Torah is concluded with the consummation of the building of the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Eternal filling it14Further, 40:35. always.15Numbers 9:16: So it was always: the cloud covered it…

It seems that there is a contradiction in the Ramban's own words. In the first section he speaks of physical redemption ending when the Jewish people return to the land of Israel. In the second part, redemption occurs when the mishkan is built.

For the Ramban, redemption can mean two things

  1. Physical redemption, and
  2. Spiritual redemption

HaEmek Davar Introduction on Shemot

What does the HaEmek Davar do in his introduction? (we are only going to look at the first part)

Firstly he outlines different ways by which Chazal name the books of the Torah. then he explains why the book of Shemot, or what was classically called the 'Second Book' is different, and is an extension of the story of creation.

זה הספר נקרא בפי בעלי המדרש ספר שמות. כדאיתא בב״ר פ״ג ויהי אור נגד ס׳ שמות כו'. וכן בהרבה מקומות. והרמב״ן סוף הספר קראו ספר הגאולה.
This book is commonly referred to by the authors of the Midrash as Sefer Shemos, (The Book of Names), as it is [for example] stated in the third parashah of Bereishis Rabbah, “‘And there was light,’1Gen. 1:3. corresponds to Sefer Shemos, etc.,” and similarly in many other locations.2The Netziv appears to be referring to the numerous Torah commentaries who refer to the Bok of Exodus as Sefer Shemos. And Nachmanides, at the end of his commentary [to Sefer Shemos], calls it the Sefer HaGeulah (The Book of Redemption).3Nachmanides concludes his commentary to Exodus with a paean expressing praise to the Eternal for enabling him to complete his commentary to the “Book of Redemption” and to “He who saved him from the hand of him that hated him, and redeemed him from the hand of his enemy.”
זולת רבינו בה״ג בסוף ספרו הקדוש יקראהו ספר שני דקחשיב חמשה חומשי תורה. ספר בראשית. וחומש שני. וספר כהנים. וחומש הפקודים. ומשנה תורה.
However, our Teacher the BaHaG4Acronym for Ba’al Halachos Gedolos, Rabbeinu Shimon Keira, ~800. [Halachos Gedolos is his composition on Halacha. Some sources attribute it to "Rabbeinu Yehudai Gaon", of the same time period.] towards the end of his holy book5Halachos Gedolos. when listing the Five Books of the Torah refers to [Shemos] as the “Second Book.” There are five books of the Torah: Sefer Bereishis, (Genesis), Chumash Sheini (Second Book of the Torah), Sefer Kohanim (Book of Priests}, Chumash HaPekudim (The Book of Numbers), and Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Torah). We likewise find [Shemos referred to as the “Second Book”] in Tractate Sotah 36b: They, [the names of the Twelve Tribes], were not apportioned upon the stones as they were apportioned in the Book of Numbers6More commonly known as “The Book of Numbers.” but rather as they were apportioned in the Second Book of the Torah. 7On the tops of the straps of the Ephod, the garment worn by the High Priest, there were two gold settings, which contained precious stones known as the Avnei Shoham. The names of the twelve tribes were inscribed upon these stones.
ושותא דמרן זצ״ל ניתן ללמדנו בינה. שלא בחנם שינה השם בזה הספר. והיה לרבינו לקרוא כולם במספר חומש שני ושלישי וכו'. או חומש שמות. או על הענין המסוים שבו כמו יציאת מצרים או מתן תורה. כמו שקורא ספר במדבר. ספר הפקודים וכמש״כ במקומו הטעם.
It is no trivial matter that they named this book differently – “from the conversations of our Rabbis we obtain insights.”8See Avodah Zarah 19b, “Even the ordinary talk of scholars needs studying.” Our Rabbis should have [been consistent and had either] listed all five books according to their numeric order, i.e., the Second Book of the Torah, the Third Book, etc.; or [this book] should have been titled the Book of Names or any other name depicting its theme, i.e. “Exodus from Egypt” or the “Giving of the Torah,” just as the Book of Bamidbar is called Sefer HaPekudim, (“The Book of Numbers”), – the rationale for which will be explained later.9See Netziv’s Introduction to the Book of Numbers.
אלא בא ללמדנו דזה הספר ביחוד הוא שני לספר ראשית הבריאה כי הוא חלק שני מזה הספר. היינו בו נגמר סדר הבריאה. וכמאמרם ז"ל בראשית בשביל ישראל שנקראו ראשית.
In fact, it comes to teach how this book specifically is the second volume to the book describing the beginning of creation; i.e. it is a second section describing the culmination of creation. This is like our Sages of Blessed Memory stated,10Tanchuma Yashan 3, Vayikrah Rabbah 36:4. God created the world for the sake of Israel who are called reishis, “first,” as stated “[Israel is holy to the Lord] the first of His crop”;11Jer. 2:3. The Midrash understands “first” as meaning “foremost.”
פי' תכלית העולם בכלל. הוא שיהא אומה אחת חלק ה׳ עמו. וזה לא נשלם עד שיצאו ישראל ממצרים ובאו לתכליתם שיהיו ראוים להיות לאור גוים להעמידם על ידיעת אלהי עולם וכמו שביארנו בגוף הספר י״ב נ״א עה״פ יצאו ב״י על צבאותם.
The understanding of this is that the purpose of the world’s creation as a whole was for a single nation to become God’s possession, His nation. This did not completely come to fruition until Israel left Egypt, arriving at their purpose when – upon accepting the yoke of the Torah and mitzvos – they experienced a transformation of their very being. Also included in this is their function to be fit to be the beacon for the nations, guiding them to recognize the God of the Universe. So have we explained in this same Book the end of the verse: “The children of Israel departed according to their hosts” (Ex. 12:51). 12The Netziv ad loc. explains that the verse may be translated as: “The children of Israel departed according to their designated service.” Upon becoming circumcised the Children of Israel became a separate Nation and of a unique form to become a people that would be a lamp unto the nations of the world. The Hebrew word for host, tzeva may also be translated as “time of service.” See Job 7:1: “Is there no, tzeva, appointed time, to man upon earth?” Meaning God has provided each person a designated function to be fulfilled within a predetermined period of time. This is also written in the Book of Isaiah 42:6, “I [the Lord] have formed you,”13Isa. 42:6. [meaning], I have given you a unique form, “and [thus] set you for a covenant of the people, [to be a light of the nations].” See how I have explained this verse in Herchav Davar to Gen. 17:4 [how the Jewish Nation was transformed into a different form and thus enabled to be a beacon to the nations].14Isa. reads in full: “I am the Lord; I called you with righteousness and I will strengthen your hand; and I formed you, and I set you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations.” The Netziv explains the second half of the verse as follows: “I have formed you,” I have given you a unique and separate form; “and set you for a covenant of the people,” to enhance every nation’s covenant, i.e. pledge to God; “and to be a light for nations,” by how the Jewish people conduct themselves in their daily affairs. According to the Netziv, the Jewish nation not only obtained a new function, but they actually underwent the creation process and became a new ‘species.’ See Sha’ar Yisrael where the Netziv explains that when the Jews do not perform their divine function, they become detestable to the nations of the world. This is similar to animals of a higher form, such as when a horse becomes detestable to people when it is not fulfilling its intended function, i.e., it dies.
וזהו תכלית הבריאה שנברא לכבודו ית׳ כמש״כ כל הנקרא בשמי ולכבודי בראתיו וגו'. כמש״כ בס׳ במדבר פ׳ שלח עה״פ ואולם חי אני וימלא כבוד ה׳ וגו'.
And this [transformation of Israel] is the purpose of creation, [to proclaim] His glory, may He be Blessed, as written in the Scripture: “Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory.”15Isa. 43:7. See what I wrote on the book of Bamidbar, in the parashah of Shelach about the verse, “But as I live, and the glory of the Lord shall fill [the entire world].”16Num.14:21. The Netziv explains that the generation accepted the 10 spies’ discouraging report of the Land of Israel as they wanted to continue to live their lives within the rules of nature. They did not want to enter the Land of Israel where they would experience life above the rules of nature, where they would be subjected to the immediate consequences of reward and punishment. After the sin of the 10 spies, God told Moses that since they had sinned by rejecting the great spiritual life transcending nature, they could no longer remain permanently in Israel; as their actions would not be as astounding to be spread throughout the world and thus influence the beliefs of the other nations. They would thus have to undergo a lengthy exile to spread the belief of God throughout the world – that is Israel’s function is to be a spiritual beacon to the world and they would thus be required to go into exile.
נמצא דיציאת מצרים הי' גמר הבריאה או מ"ת כמבואר עוד ברבה בראשית בזכות התורה שנקראת ראשית.
Thus the exodus from Egypt was the culmination of creation,17It was only when the Jewish Nation accepted the Torah, could they be transformed into being a beacon to the nations of the world. or [should we perhaps say] it was the giving of the Torah, as stated in Midrash Rabbah to Bereishis,18Gen. 1:1. “’B’reishis God Created”;’reishis referring to the Torah as in the verse, The Lord made me as the reishis, first of His way’ (Prov. 8:22).” The word b’reishis can also be translated as “with reishis.” “[The world was created] in the merit of the Torah, which is called reishis.”19The Torah was “first,” preceding all creation; it was the ‘blueprint’ used by God in creation. This is also stated in Tractate Avodah Zarah 3a: