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Dec 21

Between Walls!

When our forefather Yaacov was given the astonishing and wonderful news that his son Yosef was indeed alive after having he had assumed him dead for the past twenty-two years, Yaacov decided to travel from the Land of Israel to join Yosef in Egypt.

The Torah relates that G-d appeared to Yaacov before he traveled to Egypt and said to him, “Do not fear, I am going down to Egypt with you, and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.”

The Torah then lists the names of all of Yaacov’s descendants and says that there were seventy. However, when you count the names the Torah lists, you will find that there are only 69 names mentioned.

The question is who remained nameless?

One of the most touching explanations to this question is that G-d included and counted Himself together with Yaacov’s household. G-d related to us that that He goes into exile with us, telling us that even when the Jews are in exile and His exposed existence will not be so clear, He will always be there with us and will never neglect us.

This is what G-d meant when he guaranteed Yaacov that I will go down with you to Egypt.

G-d also guaranteed that He would be there when we will be released and come back to the Land of Israel. We know, of course, that this is true, from all of G-d’s miracles during our exodus from Egypt and throughout our journey to Israel.

The Medrash explains further. When the Jews left Egypt, the Torah tells us, “They were like 600,000 strong.” In actuality, there were 599,999 males over the age of 20, and once again, G-d included Himself in the count which made it 600,000 to fulfill His promise to Yaacov, that I will bring you back to the Land of Israel.

The Talmud gives another explanation who the unnamed 70th person was. It was in fact Yaacov’s granddaughter Yocheved, who was born to his third son Levi. The reason why Yocheved remained nameless but yet counted, is because her mother was pregnant with her during the trip to Egypt and then gave birth to her just as they arrived in Egypt.

The way our Sages describe Yocheved’s birth is, “She was born between the Chomos/walls, referring to the walls of Israel and the walls of Egypt.”

Perhaps we can expound on the reference to Yocheved’s existence as between the walls as follows.

When the Torah mentions walls it can refer to walls of protection or separation. For example, when the Jews were traveling through the split Red Sea, it states that there were walls of water to their right and to their left – there were actually 12 separate tunnels for each of the tribes. The Torah also speaks of walls when it describes a fortified and protected walled city.

Yaacov and his family’s arrival in Egypt is marked with Yocheved’s birth. She was the representation of this transition. From this point on, the Jews would remain in Egypt for 210 years.

Yocheved played a critical role in protecting the Jewish babies. The Torah tells us that she and her daughter Miriam were the midwives of the Jewish people and they ignored the Pharoh’s instruction to abort the Jewish babies. Yocheved set up a wall of protection for her people – at the risk of a severe reprimand.

When Pharoh issued a horrible decree that all newly born Jewish males be drowned in the Nile, Yocheved became pregnant with her son Moshe and had to hide him to save his life. Moshe’s sister Miriam also assisted in this effort.

The Egyptian exile was 210 years and Moshe was 80 years old at the exodus. If you do the math you will see that Yocheved was 130 years old when she gave birth to Moshe!

Yocheved merited having three towering children, Miriam, Aaron and Moshe. Each of them created walls that delineated the direction the Jewish people must take in regards to their service to G-d.

Moshe was the teacher of Torah to the Jews – having studied it from G-d Himself. Aaron symbolized the service to G-d through his position as the High Priest, and due to his friendly nature, for he pursued peace between disputants. And women looked up to Miriam the prophetess.

Each child inherited this sense of creating and implementing boundaries from their mother Yocheved.

The Torah tells us that because Yocheved and Miriam followed the instructions of G-d rather than buckling to the Pharoh they were rewarded by G-d with the gift of houses. The houses refer to the establishment of the houses of Priesthood and of the Monarchy.

Perhaps, we can add that the houses G-d was referring to are the Jewish homes; for the ‘walls’ of a Jewish home provide protection to the family from foreign and erroneous influences. The ‘walls’ also supply direction through the Torah and Mitzvah observances in the home which guide the family.

This idea is underscored when the Torah tells us how many members of Yaacov’s family came down to Egypt. The verse says “70 Nefesh” – a singular form of the word “soul” – went to Egypt. Why doesn’t the Torah write it in the plural, 70 souls? The answer is that Yaacov’s family had a common purpose; to serve G-d! This blended them into one homogenous unit – one soul.

When we place the service of G-d first and foremost it provides us with direction, protection and a truly unified purpose and goal!