STRENGTH OF THE FEW
As the children of Israel descend to the land of Egypt, they stand before a historic moment. This move forces the family out of their natural element, their familiar surroundings, and their peripheral community.
As the children of Israel descend to the land of Egypt, they stand before a historic moment. This move forces the family out of their natural element, their familiar surroundings, and their peripheral community. At this moment, the Torah lists the eleven children traveling with Jacob and provides a sum total of seventy of the group going down to Egypt. In fact, the very name of this second book of the Torah is called "Shmot Names," because the first fact we encounter is the names of the people going down to Egypt. However, in the first passage, an ambiguous reference is made about the nature of this group of seventy.
"And these are the names of the children of Israel that were traveling to Egypt with Jacob, each man and his home came" (Exodus 1:1). The phrase "each man and his home" appropriately fills in the gaps that will be left by the short list of Jacobs eleven sons. The group totaled seventy since each one of the sons went to Egypt with his own family. Of course, the Torah could have listed each person individually; other examples in the Torah show that Hashem was never shy about counting entire families. However, this phrase of "each man and his home" captures more than the gap. By describing the families in this way, the Torah is revealing an orientation. Although Rav Sadiah Gaon, head of the famous yeshiva of Pumbedisa during the first century, interpreted the term "his home" to mean all those dependent on him (which seems perfectly reasonable in the context of the passage), the Chizkuni, a 13th century Torah commentator, believes the phrase "his home" is a specific reference to ones wife. In either case, the Torah avoided writing seventy separate individuals by making reference to the seventy as one large group made up of smaller groups.
Although accuracy would have been better served if we were given a list of each person included in the seventy people, the Torah was hinting to a different message. As the children of Israel move to Egypt, they must not even attempt to go on their own. Each person has an immediate family upon which to rely. Beyond the comfort of the larger group, each of the eleven families must now bond together in order to better protect themselves from the dangers of the move. Here a subtle balance has been struck.
There is one large group going down to Egypt with seventy individuals making up the group. There is strength in the unity of a large group, but maintaining the integrity at every point is challenging. At the same time, the value of approaching a major juncture in life independent of a group offers an unparalleled opportunity to grow. However, the dangers are real and severe. Here the Torah finds a healthy balance where a person does not face the challenge, alone but maintains a certain degree of individuality. (According to the Chizkuni, the Torah is emphasizing the particular unity between husband and wife.) The move to Egypt will no doubt challenge the family in ways they have not yet known. Though, with this subtle dynamic of being a part of a larger family of seventy and, at the same time, maintaining the individuality of your immediate family, the children of Israel are better prepared to face the trials and even the slavery in Egypt. With your immediate family as your stronghold, a person can shine through anything.
Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan, is celebrating his sheva berachot this Shabbat having married Gila Kranz Thursday night. Micah is eagerly anticipating creating his own immediate family with his wife in their journey towards a meaningful and happy life together in Israel.
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