In our opening Posuk of our Parsha we read (Shemos 1:1) “ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה”, And these were the names of the children of Israel who came down to Egypt. Rashi points out that all the children and grandchildren of Yaakov were already listed back in Parshas Vayigash, nonetheless Hashem lists the progeny again due to His immense love for them. Rashi brings in a parable of one who counts the stars, listing each one’s name and tallying up how many he sees because it is so beloved to the individual. He quotes a posuk from Yeshayahu (40:26) that expresses this idea with Bnei Yisrael as the stars; “המוציא במספר צבאם לכלם בשם יקרא”, who takes out their host by number; all of them He calls by name.
The Sefas Emes (תרל”ד), raises the question why is it necessary to count each star? He answers based on a Ramban in Bereishis (1:18) that there is significance to each star, for each star is tasked with an individual responsibility and every time each “star” carries out his responsibility he receives a new name. Every member of Bnei Yisrael is a neshamah, (for the candle of Hashem is the soul of the individual-כי נר ה’ נשמת אדם) that can burn brightly (like the stars) and when one actualizes their potential, one receives a new name. For example, Yaakov was called such at birth until he meets up with the angel in Parshas וישלח and then receives his new name due to his new שליחות, mission, in this world. Our names reflect our ability to illuminate sparks of holiness to dispel the darkness, especially during times of גלות when our world is that much darker. (This may give more insight to the idea of “לא שינו את שמותם”, that in Egypt the Jews did not alter their Hebraic names and that becomes one of the merits for redemption from Egypt.) In Posuk 5 Hashem refers to us as “שבעים נפש”, seventy soul, why not seventy souls? Why are we written about in the singular? Furthermore, why when Paraoh is trying to deal with the Jewish problem does he say “הבה נתחכמה לו”, and not להם, help me deal wisely with them? The Sefas Emes answers that when we are bound together as one-we are untouchable. Alas, the enslavement hit us when there was divisiveness- “וימררו את חייהם” and they made their lives bitter, in the plural, emphasizing our lack of unity, hence vulnerability for attack. (Similarly, in מגילת אסתר , this is how Haman tries to hurt us as well when he refers to us as ” ישנו עם אחד מפזר ומפרד בין העמים” (3:8) there exists a singular nation spread out and separated amongst the nations.) How then were/are we to fight back against the darkness of גלות and suffering? The key is to pull back the veil that seeks to cover the אור, the light of Hashem. We discover this אספקלריא דלא נהרא, a clarity that is born through darkness with Emunah. Our faith allows us to attain the אמת that sometimes is blocked from our vision.
The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah and the Gemara Brachos (57a) teaches us that Torah, Eretz Yisrael and Olam HaBah (the world to come) are only merited through Yissurin, suffering. If Shabbos is considered מעין עולם הבא, a derivative of the World to Come, to truly appreciate Shabbos we must go through the toil of the work week. (“מי שטרח בערב שבת יאכל בשבת מי שלא טרח בערב שבת מהיכן יאכל בשבת?” מס’ ע”ז ג., whoever toils preparing for Shabbos will be able to eat on Shabbos and whoever does not toil in preparation for Shabbos from where will he have food for Shabbos?) In proportion to the amount of energy invested in the work week leading up to Shabbos, we will appreciate Shabbos. Shabbos serves as a unification for all of Klal Yisrael. In Egypt, Moshe Rabbeinu attained Shabbos as a day of reprieve from the עבודת פרך, the back breaking work. (See Shemos Rabbah 1:28 and he saw their suffering “וירא בסבלותם”) There was one day a week Paraoh could not control Bnai Yisrael, they were instead all focused and united in their service of Hashem. Through the sanctification of Shabbos we merited the Geulah from Egypt; “שנתאספו בשבת קודש ונתעוררו בתשובה” (Shemos Rabbah 5:18),they would gather on Shabbos Kodesh and be awakened to repent. All work was left by the wayside and true חירות, freedom, was achieved week by week.
We still have the gift of Shabbos (now as a formal mitzvah), and if each of us can recognize and actualize our individual כוחות and work on bringing more sparks of light and recognition of Hashem we can then in our unified celebration of Shabbos Kodesh hopefully fulfill the words of Vayikra Rabbah (3:1) and Yeshayahu HaNavi: “אין ישראל נגאלין אלא בזכות שבת שנאמר ‘בשובה ונחת תושעון’ 30:15, Bnai Yisrael will not be redeemed, except in the merit of Shabbos, as it says, “with tranquility and restfulness shall you be saved”.