Parashat Maseh: The Four Exiles
Parashat Maseh begins by listing all the journeys undertaken by Beneh Yisrael as they traveled in the wilderness, from Egypt until Eretz Yisrael. The opening verse of the Parasha introduces this list by stating, “Eleh Maseh Beneh Yisrael” – “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel.”
A closer look at these words reveals a deeper meaning. The first letters of these words are “Alef,” “Mem,” “Bet” and “Yod,” which stand for the names of four nations: Edom, Madai, Babel and Yavan. These names represent the four exiles that our nation has endured since the first and archetypical exile, the exile in Egypt. The first exile after the Exodus was the 70-year Babylonian exile which followed the destruction of the First Temple at the hands of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnesar. Babel was soon overtaken by the empire of Persia and Madai, under whose rule Beneh Yisrael lived until that empire fell to the Greeks – Yavan. The fourth and final exile is that of Edom, which is identified as Rome, who destroyed the Second Temple and drove us into the exile which we continue to endure to this very day. And thus when the Torah states, “Eleh Maseh Beneh Yisrael,” it alludes to the four difficult “journeys” which we will be forced to take over the course of our history, as indicated by the first letters of these words.
Later in the Tanach, we are shown the way we extricate ourselves from these exiles and earn redemption. In next week’s Haftara, we read the famous prophecy of Yeshayahu, “Siyon Be’mishpat Tipadeh Ve’shaveha Bi’sdaka” – “Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and its restoration shall be through charity.” We earn our redemption from exile through Mishpat – honesty, fairness and dealing with people in an upright manner – and through Sedaka – charity. And thus King Shelomo teaches us in Mishleh (29:4), “Melech Ba’mishpat Ya’amid Aretz” – “A king establishes the land through justice.” The first letters of these four words are the same letters mentioned above – “Mem,” “Bet,” “Yod” and “Alef” – and thus signify the four exiles. This verse tells us that the King – the Almighty – brings an end to His nation’s exile and restores them to their land “Ba’mishpat,” through justice. Likewise, earlier in Mishleh (21:14), we read, “Matan Ba’seter Yichpeh Af” – “A hidden gift [of charity] overturns anger.” Once again, the first letters of these words represent the four exiles, and Shelomo here teaches us that charity, like Mishpat, is how we escape G-d’s wrath and earn our national redemption.
The holy books note that these four exiles correspond to the four letters of the divine Name of “Havaya” (“Yod,” “Heh,” “Vav” and “Heh”). Each exile affects, so-to-speak, the corresponding Name of G-d, which is thus incomplete until full redemption is achieved. Our fourth and final exile naturally corresponds to the fourth and final letter – the second “Heh” – and G-d’s Name remains incomplete until the final Ge’ula (redemption) arrives. Thus we say three times each day in the Amida prayer that G-d is “Mebi Go’el Lema’an Shemo Be’ahaba” – He brings redemption “for His Name’s sake.” As His Name is incomplete during our exile, He will redeem us “Lema’an Shemo,” in order to complete His Name. This is done “Be’ahaba” (“with love”), which can be read to mean, “Twice ‘Ahaba’.” The numerical value of the word “Ahaba” is 13, and twice “Ahaba” is thus 26, the numerical value of the Name “Havaya.” G-d will soon bring redemption to complete His Name so it will once again reach the total of 26, as the final letter is restored through our national redemption, speedily and in our days, Amen.