Even Shlomo - Parsha Bo
Featured Video - Reb Sholon Brodt z"l - Personal Exodus Book Launch
Even Shlomo - Reb Shlomo on Parshas Bo - Darkness
You know friends, the saddest thing is that during the plague of darkness in Egypt, for three days nobody saw one another. By us Yiddelach there was the same darkness, but the Torah says 'for Israel it was light'. So, the ordinary meaning is that for Egypt it was dark and for the Yidden there was light. But the real deeper meaning is that in Egypt it was dark; they didn't see anybody else. What do us Yiddelach do when it is dark? We look for somebody else.
I'll tell you something so deep. When there is light, you don't feel so lonesome. When it's dark, you mamesh need someone. What do we Yiddelach do when it's dark? We walk around looking for people who are also lonesome. The holiest thing before Mashiach is coming is that it's getting a little bit dark, but suddenly we're aware, who knows, maybe somebody else is in even more darkness than I am?
Here we are reading about the first mitzvah, sanctifying the new moon (Rosh Chodesh). The Talmud says that when G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu 'You have to sanctify the new month', Moshe Rabbeinu asked G-d 'Promise me to see the new moon. Please G-d, tell me what you mean'.
So the Talmud says G-d said to Moshe 'Kazeh Re'eh Vekadesh'. G-d showed him 'You see, this is the moon, this is one ray, this is it. Re'eh, look, Vekadesh, make it holy'.
You know my beautiful friends, what is the most glorious, most holiest way of serving G-d? It's very easy to sit down and tell another human everything which is wrong with them, and if you really concentrate I'm sure you could write a book on how wrong every human being is, doesn't take much.
But 'Kazeh Re'eh VaVekadesh.'
I met this person and I saw this one good thing about them, one good thing, one ray of light, blew my mind. 'Re'eh Vekadesh', if you have the eyes of the Messiah, eyes of King David, if you see one good thing about another human being then we say 'Gevalt, is that person holy, gevalt are they holy.'
These are the eyes of King David, these are G-dly eyes.
It is possible to know another human being for two thousand years and not know anything about them, you know why? Because maybe that one second when you weren't looking, maybe they did something so holy, they shook up heaven and earth. Maybe for one minute in their life the whole world was on fire because of them
An Ishbitzer Accompaniment into Galus
“And these are the names of the children of Israel
who were coming to Egypt” (Sh’mos 1:1)
The story of our exile in Exodus is called Sh’mos, “names.” This isn’t just a sweet
concept; it’s so much deeper than that. In order to go into exile and come out alive, you
have to hold onto your name.
The Beis Ya’akov of Ishbitz says like this: There are two kinds of holiness in the world. One kind depends on what I do, and if I can build this holiness, I can also destroy it. But then there is another kind of holiness, which has nothing to do with my actions. It’s something I have in me. But the thing is, it’s a holiness that is hidden. Each time I do something good, I reconnect myself to that holiness and make it shine more strongly. But each time I do something wrong, I cover it up a little more so it doesn’t shine.You know something?
We each have so many questions. What is our story as Am Yisrael? What’s going on in the world today? What makes me part of the Jewish people?
And most of all, why am I still in exile?
None of these things have much to do with any of my actions. Yes, I’m responsible for my actions. But what really connects me – and connects one Jew to another – is not what I’m doing or what you’re doing in the world.
It’s this holiness which we all have, this second type of holiness. You see, I was born
with the same inner holiness as the Ba’al Shem Tov. Basically, the lowest Yiddele has thesame fire inside him as Moshe Rabbeinu. How is it that Moshe Rabbeinu and the Ba’al Shem were so much higher? Because they worked so hard on their own to make their inner holiness shine more and more.
So when it comes to my personal story, it all really depends both on what I don’t do – and on what I do. A title is something I get later in life, and it depends on what I do. Doctor, psychiatrist, or shlepper – these are all names I get later on. But let’s say that when I was born I received the name Miriam or Chaim. This
has nothing to do with my actions – it’s much deeper than that. The name I am given
when I am born comes from a totally different place.
Someone once came to the Kotzker Rebbe and asked, “Rebbe, tell me…what name
should I give to my son?” And the Kotzker said to him, “Once in your life G-d gives you
prophesy. Why should I take it away from you?” You see what it is, to give somebody a
name borders on prophecy, because my name is what connects me to my roots. I don’t
receive a name just so people will know what to call me. That’s what the world thinks.
The fact is if, G-d forbid, somebody is fainting and you call him by his name, you are
able to revive him. One of the great Rebbes once said that if a person is, G-d forbid,
about to die, the most important thing is for someone to keep calling his name. Then he
will live, because calling out his name brings together his soul and his body. So my name
can’t be just a mechanical thing, something for identification, because it really is the
connection between my body and my soul.
When someone is ill, G-d forbid, and a name is added on, it connects that person to a new
root. He must have used up all his old batteries; as far as his old roots are concerned,
obviously, his time is up. So, you connect his soul to new roots by giving him a new
name. Maybe, maybe that will help. But again, it borders on prophecy to know what
name to add for him. You can’t just pick any name; you can’t look in the phone book and
find something new to call him. It doesn’t work that way. You have to ask someone very
holy what name will connect him to new roots.
Let me explain on another level. Imagine I’m walking on the street and I feel a bit low.
Suddenly someone comes and says, “Hey, Shlomo! How are you?” And suddenly I feel
very happy. At that moment this person really filled my needs. I needed someone to talk
to me; I needed someone to smile at me. It’s very beautiful. Then I say goodbye and I do
something else. Now imagine that somebody calls my name and it reaches me in the
deepest depths. It’s not because at that moment I needed that person. It has nothing to do
with this moment or another one. It’s that the way this person said my name was mamesh
“And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt.” The Beis
Ya’akov says (Beis Ya’akov, Sh’mos 6): When the Yidden went down to Egypt, suddenly
G-d gave them a strong name. What does it mean that G-d gave them a strong name? It
means that G-d gave them this great holiness – but not because of their actions. G-d gave
them such a powerful holiness; they simply weren’t able to tear themselves away from
The craziest thing in the world is [that] when we were in Egypt, we never
did anything wrong. But right after we stood on Mount Sinai, we did wrong all the time.
Isn’t that crazy? Before Mount Sinai we didn’t know anything, and yet we never went
against G-d’s will – without even knowing what G-d’s will was. And after G-d told us
what we were supposed to do, we kept making mistakes. But the reason for this is very
simple. After Mount Sinai we were operating on the level of our own actions. Maybe we
had this holiness inside of us, but it was up to us to bring it out. While in Egypt, the
holiness was completely beyond; it was as if we were high on holiness.
How could we exist in exile? Take the Russian Jews. In America there is complete free
choice; in Israel we have free choice – and yet our Yiddishkeit is not so strong. The
lowest Yiddele in Russia didn’t even know what Eretz Yisrael means; he didn’t know
anything about Yerushalayim. And yet he was willing to sit in Siberia because he wanted
so much to go to Jerusalem. This comes from a higher level – G-d is filling him with this
There are times when I really want to do wrong, but I can’t. I know it’s not my own
doing. It’s not because I don’t want to. I really want to, but I just can’t. This doesn’t come
from my head, so where is it coming from? From the roots of my soul….
Everyone knows, there were two covenants. There was the covenant of our forefathers,
and there was the covenant on Mount Sinai. What’s the difference between them? It’s
really very simple.
Do you know what a covenant means? It means to be tied together. When I take two
things and I tie them together like mad so that they can’t be separated anymore, that is a
covenant. So the Beis Ya’akov says: the first thing about the covenant of our Fathers,
Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, is that a Yiddele has a holiness which comes from a
deeper place than the level of learning and knowing. Mount Sinai was about learning,
knowledge. We stood before G-d and Moshe Rabbeinu told us everything. But the
covenant of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov was much higher and much deeper than
Therefore, the Beis Ya’akov says: when we were in Egypt, the roots of our holiness
became so strong because the exile was so strong. In other words, if the exile had reached
only as deep as our minds, then our own holiness would have been enough to get us
through it. But in Egypt we had no Torah. We had nothing mind-wise; we hadn’t learned
anything yet. So, our survival had to come from a higher place than our minds, from the
roots of our souls.
Now listen to this. What is a name? My name is the root of my life; everything is
included in my name. It’s who I really am. I may be a person who is split in ten thousand
directions. But when someone calls my name, it hits that one spot inside me which is one,
that is all of me.
The Beis Ya’akov says that a person has so many different needs. I need a house, I need
food – apples, coffee. I need clothes, and boots when it’s raining. But then I need
something which is deeper than all that. I need to be connected to the core of my life.
And this need is beyond everything else. It’s the same thing when it comes to learning
Torah. There are all kinds of divrei Torah; every day, every split second there is new
Torah coming down. Sometimes I learn something and I like it. It turns me on.
This is the level of when I’m hungry and someone gives me food. I take the food, and it satisfies
my need. But then there is Torah that I learn and something happens to me deep inside. This
is on the level of someone calling my name and the all of me turns around. When I learn
this kind of Torah, all of me is mamesh turning around. Do you know how deep this is?
G-d forbid, a person can live his or her whole life without ever tasting this level of
What is my vessel for receiving these divrei Torah, these holy words of Torah which
touch me so deeply and which I need beyond needing? This is the covenant of Avraham,
Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. This is the holy kind of Yiddishkeit where I am completely tied to
G-d. This is not just about my needs. This is about life itself. You see, even when I am
trying to serve G-d, I’m not praying all the time. I don’t learn all the time. I don’t have
Shabbos all the time. What is it that is always with me? My name. And this is what the
Ishbitzer is saying.
There is Yiddishkeit that I need like the way I need food or a house or
a shirt. And then there is Torah on the level of my name. It is with me all the time. It is
with me when I eat, it is with me when I sleep. I can’t move without it; I can’t exist
without it. My very life is a vessel for this kind of divrei Torah. This is the covenant, and
this is my name….
Why is it that Avraham Avinu’s name was shining all over? Because he did something
with his name. The Baal Shem Tov’s name was Yisrael. How many people are called
Yisrael and their names aren’t shining?
The Beis Ya’akov says that you still have your name when you sleep. But when you’re
awake it’s a different thing. People call you by your name and you respond. In this way
you can make your name bigger.
Now, imagine that I’m learning. And what I am learning turns me on for a little while.
But then I forget it. What happened? It turned off. Sometimes you meet kids and you tell
them some Torah. If you tell them Torah on the level of food, they eat it, digest it, and
maybe lose it. But sometimes you tell them something holy, and it’s with them all their
lives. This means you’ve told them Torah on the level of their real name. It stays with
What happens to you in exile? In exile your name gets deeper, shining to the utmost.
Everyone has their own little exiles. And when that happens to me, what is it that gets
deeper? Not my actions, not that part of me that I’m master of. It’s the core of my being.
How did we keep going while we were in exile for two thousand years? We couldn’t
fulfill all the mitzvahs because we weren’t in Israel. We couldn’t learn so much, either.
But do you know what got so strong? Our names – which is another way of saying – the
divrei Torah which are on the level of our name. These stay with us all our lives – the
holy words of Torah, which we cannot live without.
The most heartbreaking thing is if – G-d forbid – we get cut off from G-d for even one
split second. It’s the end. And that’s the thing about exile. The whole world wants to tear
us away from G-d. Why is our land called Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel? Because
that is mamesh our name – Israel. Our connection with the Land is not like our
connection with Shabbos.
Shabbos is only once a week; our name is forever. Our name is
deeper than Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. It’s even deeper than our connection with
the Torah, because sometimes we’re learning and sometimes we’re not. The holiness of
Eretz Yisrael is that it’s so connected to our name. And the problem is, the whole world
wants to tear us away from that holy name.
There is tremendous evil going on in the world today, tremendous evil. Right now, evil is
concentrating its forces for the last battle, once and forever, before Mashiach is coming.
First, they want to destroy us physically. And then the new thing is that people don’t talk
against Jews, they talk against Zionists. Covering it up. They say, “Listen, you can be a
Jew. You can go to India, you can belong to any religion, you can be anything you want
and just send money to Israel. Really, we have nothing against your religion. But there’s
just one thing – don’t live in Israel.” What are people like that really doing? They want to
tear out our name, to tear out those divrei Torah on the level of our name.
So how do we fight this? Everybody has to get themselves a weapon. My weapon is
divrei Torah on the level of my name. We have to dig so deep and find the holy words,
which are on the level of our name.
What is Shabbos all about? On Shabbos I’m not doing anything on a physical level. And
that means that I also don’t do much of anything on a spiritual level, either. You might
say, “What are you talking about?
I daven on Shabbos, I learn on Shabbos.” But mitzvahs and learning Torah on Shabbos are
not on the level of doing. On Shabbos everything is on the level of receiving; the holiness of
Shabbos is receiving. Because what is Shabbos? The Zohar Hakadosh says Shabbos is
“Sh’ma d’kudsha brich hu” – Shabbos is the name of G-d.
What is the difference between my relationship with G-d during the week and my
relationship with Him on Shabbos? It’s like the difference between my learning Torah on
the level of food or on the level of my name. On Shabbos I reach G-d on the level of His
Holy Name. Can you imagine how deep this is?
Now listen to this. To be able to do something on the level of action is very strong. But
even when I’m trying as hard as I can, I can only do so much. I can only learn so much –
because I am finite. What is the most infinite thing within me? The holiness that is my
name. This is what connects me to the infinite, to life itself. Shabbos is infinite.
This means that on Shabbos I’m on the level of calling G-d by His name. During the week I
call G-d by His titles. But what’s the difference between calling someone “Doctor” and
calling the same person by his name? It’s a completely different relationship. On Shabbos
I’m ready to receive from G-d that which I never dreamt of, never even thought of. If on
Shabbos I ask G-d to give me a thousand dollars. G-d will answer me, “Why just a
thousand? I was thinking of giving you a million.” Or imagine I say, “Listen G-d, I want
to be as holy as the Heilige Ba’al Shem Tov.” G-d will say, “Why only like the Baal
Shem? I was thinking of making you even holier.” Because infinite is infinite…
Now listen to one more sweet thing. How can a person know what level he is learning on,
whether it’s the level of food and shelter or the level of name? The answer is very simple.
How much are you running after it? I might be very hungry, but I’m not going to run
barefoot all the way to Yerushalayim to find some food. Maybe I’m thirsty, but I won’t
run ten miles in the rain just to get a little coffee. But if my learning is on the level of a
name, it’s infinite – an infinite need. It’s so deep that I just can’t be without it. I’m
running after it, no matter what it takes.
Now the Beis Ya’akov says something very deep. How can I ever taste the holiness of
my own name, the sweetness of the infinite? Every morning I put on tefillin, but I don’t
taste the holiness of my name. It might be hidden there, but I don’t taste it. I can do all
the mitzvahs my whole life and never taste that sweetness.
At a certain point we realize that our lives are full of really important tests, strong tests,
hard tests. Imagine I have a really big test, and I’m standing at the crossroads. Then
suddenly – I don’t know what happens to me, but G-d helps me and I don’t fall. It is at
that moment that I taste who I am. I taste the holiness, the sweetness of my own name.
And where did this come from? The Beis Ya’akov says it comes from the holiness deep
inside me, which I inherited from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov.
When did the exile in Egypt begin? According to Rashi, the four hundred years of Galus
Mitzrayim [Egyptian exile] began with the birth of Yitzchak. (Sh'mos 6:18) Yitzchak was
the first person that was born a Jew. He was the first Yiddele who had a bris and received
a name when he was eight days old. And who chose his name? G-d. G-d said to
Avraham, “Give your son the name Yitzchak.” (Bereishis 17:19) Yitzchak was the first
person in the world whose name was given to him by G-d. When Yitzchak was born he
was already on the highest level, and he had to work himself down to our world. So what
keeps us going in exile? It’s this unconscious high level. It’s this name.
Everybody knows that the exile in Egypt was a preparation to stand on Mount Sinai.
What was G-d doing while we were in exile? Strengthening our name. We must have a
name, that deepest depths of our souls which must always be with us and which gives us
the strength to go through anything…
How does the Book of Exodus begin?
“V’eileh sh’mos b’nei Yisrael…” ‘These are the names of the children of Israel.’ What is
this telling us? You have to know your name. What gets you out of Egypt, out of exile,
out of slavery? Your name. A name is not just what other people call me. If I know my
name, then I know who I really am.
Chasidus makes it very clear. Our Egypts don’t have to be low Egypts. They might be
very holy, but they’re still exile, they’re still slavery. Everybody has excuses for their
own Egypt. But the truth is, you can be a very good person, but if you don’t know your
name, you’re still not free. You simply don’t know who you can be. So the beginning of
Sh’mos is “V’eile sh’mos” – I know my name, I know what I can become. And that gets
me out of Egypt.
Reb Tzadok HaKohen says that slavery begins when I lose my roots, when nothing
touches my roots. Now my roots are much deeper than my mind. So how can I reach
them? It’s really very simple. I have to stop my mind from thinking.
The Kotzker Rebbe tells us: imagine how deep my mind becomes when I don’t think.
You know, there are two kinds of depth. On the one hand, the more I think the deeper my
mind becomes. If I study a lot and think about what I study, then my mind can become
more and more of a vessel for the light which can be contained in vessels. This is one
level of depth.
But then there are certain depths which my mind can only reach by not thinking. Because
there is a great light which has no vessels, which is beyond vessels. How can my mind
receive this kind of light? Only if I stop thinking – if I stop thinking in a holy way – not
because I’m stupid, but because I am so wise that I can empty my mind of thought. Then,
when that great light is shining, my mind can be a vessel for it, too.
Most people will ask, “How can you have light without vessels? How can you drink
coffee without a cup? What holds the coffee, the light?” This is slave thinking. A free
person will ask, “Where does it say that I need a cup to drink coffee, a vessel to receive
light?” Slave thinking says, “Okay, you say you know there is one G-d. But if you have
stopped thinking, how do you know this in your mind?” But this is only a question of a
slave. A free man says, “My mind knows beyond thinking. I know beyond my mind!”
Once my mind is connected again to my roots, to who I really am, to my name… I can do
anything in the world.
Everyone knows that a name has two levels. People are given names so that people can
call out to them, but this is on the outside. If a person would be all alone in the world,
they wouldn’t need a name because no one would be calling them.
Now there is a name which absolutely reaches into the deepest depths of your being.
What’s so special about parents giving a name? You really have to be on the level of
prophecy to give a name for the inside. I can call you Fritz, Max, or any other name in the
world, and you will turn your head when I call out to you. For this you don’t have to be a
father or a mother. A father and mother are mamesh given this prophetic vision to know
which name to give for a much higher and exalted reason.
Now the Ishbitzer says like this (Beis Ya’akov, Sh'mos 3):
Whatever happens in this world mirrors that which takes place above. In paradise there
are no garments. Outside paradise everything is covered up. Not with one garment, but
with two million garments. Sometimes a name is a cover up, it’s a hell name, which is
Sometimes people call you by your name, adding hundreds of more garments onto you.
The way they call your name makes you shrink away and close up even more. Sometimes
somebody calls you and you mamesh open your whole heart to that person, suddenly you
are back in paradise.
But there is something even deeper.
Being created in G-d’s image means that inside each and every one of us there is mamesh
infinite holy power. But you know what it is? Someone has to call us by our name to
wake up this infinite power that exists within. Parents have this tremendous holiness of
giving their child a name, which they know will wake up the deepest depths of their
Imagine I’m in a restaurant and I’m getting soup that tastes very good. But there is just
one thing. The soup was not made for me. I can buy it, I can get it, but it was not made
for me. When I come home from shul on Friday night and my wife gives me soup, this
soup was mamesh made for me. It’s a different kind of taste. I can have a taste of life like
everyone else, but you know what a name does to me? A name makes me feel that
something was made just for me.
When our holy fathers and mothers gave us a name, they gave us this holiness that the
whole world is meant just for me.