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“ויהי כל נפש יוצאי ירך יעקב שבעים נפש ויוסף היה במצרים” (שמות א:ה)
“And it was that every soul that descended from Yaakov, seventy souls, and Yosef was in Egypt” (Shemos 1:5)
Now, Yosef is included in the 70 descendants of Yaakov, so why is he mentioned separately!? In addition, asks Rashi, did we not know that Yosef was in Egypt that we had to mention it here!?
Rashi answers that the posuk is informing us of the great righteousness of Yosef. He is Yosef who faithfully tended to his father’s flocks; and he is Yosef who remained righteous even though he was made king of Egypt. With this explanation, Rashi answers both of the above questions. That is, Yosef was mentioned separately for he stood up to his trials although he lived separate from his father, and all this although he was made king of Egypt, which made it even more difficult for him to remain faithful to his father’s ways!
The Toldos Yitzchok asks, why does the Torah mention here the “seventy souls” who descended from Yaakov? He answers that the Torah is teaching us that at this point, at the beginning of the golus/exile of Egypt, that we were 70 souls, and at the end of the last golus the Jewish people will inherit the 70 nations of the world. Thus, the posuk mentions that “Yosef was in Egypt”. That is, he was mentioned last to hint to Moshiach Ben Yosef, who is destined to arrive at the end of days to take the Jewish people out of golus!
In support of the words of the Toldos Yitzchok we can add that Yosef is mentioned separately in order to teach us just as Yosef ruled over Egypt, so too in the end of days, all the 70 descendants of Yaakov will rule over the 70 nations of the world.
This is the deeper meaning of the word “נפש” / “soul” – a source strength that can be expanded and multiplied. And so we find in Sefer Devorim (10:22) “בשבעים נפש ירדו אבותיך מצרימה ועתה שמך ה’ אלקיך ככוכבי השמים לרוב / “As seventy souls your forefathers went down to Egypt and now Hashem your G-d has placed you as the stars of the heavens in great quantities”.
In addition, we can learn from the above posuk that just as the stars cast their light on the whole world, so too the Jewish people are destined to rule over all the nations of the world!
We see as well that the word “נפש” means the ability to grow and multiply in the story of creation as it is written “ויאמר אלקים ישרצו המים שרץ נפש חיה” / “And G-d said, the earth shall produce living souls… animals…” (Bereishis 1:20) and “ויהי האדם לנפש חיה” / “and the man became a living soul” (ibid. 2:7)
We see this understanding as well of the word “נפש” / “soul” from that which it is written “וישמע ראובן ויצלהו מידם ויאמר לא נכנו נפש” / “And Reuven heard, and saved them from their hands and said we shall not strike a soul” (ibid. 37:21). Rashi explains “לא נכנו נפש” / “we shall not strike a soul” meaning, not to kill him. Reuven meant to say that if we kill Yosef, even if he is guilty of the death sentence, why should his offspring suffer!? And we find this approach even concerning a wicked person, as it is written“ויהי בימים ההם ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלותם וירא איש מצרי מכה איש עברי מאחיו. ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש ויך את המצרי ויטמנהו בחול” / “And it was in those days, and Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and saw their suffering and saw an Egyptian man striking a Jewish man of his brethren. He looked here and there and saw that there was no man and struck the Egyptian and buried him in the sand” (Shemos 2:11-12). Rashi explains the meaning of “וירא כי אין איש” / “he saw that there was no man” that he saw that there was no man of his offspring that would eventually convert. If so, certainly here, that which Reuven said “לא נכנו נפש” / “we shall not strike a soul” means that we shall not strike all the great tzadikim who are destined to descend from Yosef. All this teaches us that the word “נפש” means multiplication and expansion.
To further strengthen the premise of the Toldos Yitzchok, we find that the posuk states “בהנחל עליון גוים בהפרידו בני אדם יצב גבולות עמים למספר בני ישראל” / “Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave inheritances to the nations and he separated the peoples and established borders to the nations according to the number of the children of Israel” (Devorim 32:8). Rashi explains because of the seventy Jewish souls who descended to Egypt, Hakadosh Baruch Hu separated the peoples of the world into seventy nations. This teaches us that existence of the nations is dependent on the seventy souls who descended to Egypt, and in the future this will be revealed to all, and at that time the Jewish people will be given sovereignty over all the seventy nations!
In a similar vein explains the Ohr Hachaim, this tree (referring to Yaakov Avinu), contains 70 branches and they are the 70 souls, descendants of Yaakov, who went down to Egypt. Therefore, when Hakadosh Baruch Hu separated the nations, He divided them according to the number of souls which descended from Yaakov. Meaning, He divided them into 70 nations which correspond to the 70 descendants of Yaakov. Hashem’s intention in doing this was so that each and every side of holiness should rule over each and every side of impurity. This is the idea behind the posuk “רגליה יורדות מות” / “Her legs descend to death” (Mishlei 5:5), meaning that the legs of holiness walk over the heads of the impurities. As a result, the “branches” of Yaakov rule over the nations.
From the above we learn that not only do our actions affect our offspring but we are meant to perfect ourselves to the point where we are able to rule over all the nations of the world according to G-d’s directives.
The Three Signs Used to Convince the Jewish People that G-d will Take them Out of Egypt
“ויאמר מטה… ויהי לנחש… והנה ידו מצורעת… ויהי לדם ביבשה” (שמות ד:ב-ט)
“And He said the staff… and the serpent was… and behold his hand became infected with spiritual leprosy… and there was blood on the dry land” (Shemos 4:2-9)
We need to understand why Hakadosh Baruch Hu chose these three signs in particular for Moshe to use to show the Jewish people and Pharaoh that Hashem, using Moshe and Aharon as His representatives, was capable of taking the Jewish people out of Egypt?
We can suggest, with G-d’s help, that the purpose of these signs was to show that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the Master and Controller of the world, and that Pharaoh and his magicians and Nature and its laws do not have the capability to prevent Hakadosh Baruch Hu from doing all that he desires in general and to take the Jewish people out of Egypt in particular. The most powerful way to demonstrate this is to show that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has control over life and death of all existence. And these three signs do just that, as they show Hashem’s dominion over all four levels of existence on earth: mineral, vegetable, animal and human.
The first sign is the creation and nullification of the serpent which represents the animal kingdom. Changing the staff into a serpent and back again showed that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the Creator and the Controller of all animal existence.
The turning of Moshe’s hand from a healthy one to one infected with spiritual leprosy, the second sign showed to Moshe, shows Hashem’s control over the life and death of man as the Gemora (Nedarim 64b) tells us that four people are considered as dead even while they are alive, and one of them is one who is inflicted with spiritual leprosy.
The third and last sign, the changing of the water of the Nile into blood, showed that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is in control of inanimate materials and of vegetation as well which needs water for its existence.
Now, while the Torah tells us that the staff and Moshe’s hand were turned back into their original state, the Torah does not state explicitly that the blood turned back into water. We can suggest a reason for this accordingly to Rashi’s explanation that the turning of the water into blood was meant to hint to the first plague which would befall Pharaoh and his people if they were not to send the Jewish people from their land. And that is, that the fact that the blood did not change back into water was meant to hint that the first plague was soon to follow!
The Mouth and Speech are Meant to Act as Faithful Agents of the Mind and Soul
“והיה הוא יהיה לך לפה ואתה תהיה לו לאלהים” (שמות ד:טז)
“And he will be to you as a mouthpiece and you will be to him as a leader” (Shemos 4:16)
Rashi explains “יהיה לך לפה” / “he will be to you as a mouthpiece” meaning that Aharon will speak to Pharaoh (in Moshe’s name) and “ואתה תהיה לו לאלהים” meaning Moshe will be your leader and director.
From here we learn that one’s mouth and speech are not the director and controller of their speech, but only agents, while the director and controller of their speech is the mind and soul! That is, Moshe (representing mind and soul) will tell Aharon (representing the agent of speech) what to say, and Aharon will merely reflect to Pharaoh Moshe’s words without changing or adding a thing.
From here we learn an important lesson in the use of one’s speech. That is, before a person opens his mouth in order to speak, he must first remember that his mouth and speech are only meant to be faithful agents of his mind and soul. Therefore, before he opens his mouth, he must connect with his mind and soul and determine if the words which he is about to speak are permissible according to Torah law, and, as well, if it is the right thing to say at this time.
A hint to the above is found in that the [small] numerical value of the word פ”ה which is 13, which is the same numerical value as אחד/one. Meaning, one should not open his mouth in order to speak unless it is in harmony with his mind and soul!
The author of the sefer Shaarei Teshuva (not the early authority) takes the above understanding one stage deeper. He explains as follows: The numerical value of שפ”ה/lip, which is also instrumental in speech, is the same numerical value as שכינ”ה/Hashem’s Presence, because each and every word uttered in our lower world is entrenched in its source in the higher worlds. Voice and speech express G-d and His Presence. The voice represents G-d, and speech, His Presence. Therefore, the numerical value of שפ”ה/lip is the same as שכינ”ה/Hashem’s Presence to teach us that speech which leaves one’s mouth through one’s lips stems from Hashem’s Presence. Accordingly, one who speaks improperly “damages”, so to say, Hashem’s Presence.
Therefore, one should be extremely careful not to utter even a single word unless he is sure that it is permissible. For if one does not guard his tongue as need be, not only does he prevent his intelligence and spirituality from revealing and expressing themselves, but as his speech is implanted in higher, more spiritual worlds, his improper speech may actually cause “damage” to Hashem’s Presence.
The Shaarei Teshuva adds that the true role of man’s speech is to have a positive effect on the upper worlds and that this can only be accomplished if man’s speech is holy and pure. Therefore, one needs to guard his speech and make sure that he does not defile it. This is the meaning behind the words of Dovid the king “נצור לשונך מרע ושפתיך מדבר מרמה” / “Guard your tongue from evil (speech) and your lips from speaking deceitfulness” (Tehillim 34:14). From here we learn that one’s main task is to guard one’s speech so that it stays clean and pure so that it can accomplish the great things it is meant to accomplish!